The service, based on the Waze app acquired by Alphabet in 2013, is slightly different from the ride-hailing offers ofÂ other companies. It allows regular drivers that use itsÂ crowd-sourced traffic-monitoring app to buddy up with people needing to hitch a ride across the city.
So that it doesnâ€™t become a job for anyone, riders pay the driver just 54 cents per mileâ€”the IRS-approved rate that people can claim for business travel when using their own car.Â That’s much cheaper than an Uber, which can cost upwards of a dollar per mile, or far more during surge pricing.
Alphabet started testing the serviceÂ in San Francisco last year, but the Wall Street JournalÂ now reports that the plan is to â€œdramatically expandâ€ itÂ into â€œseveral U.S. cities and Latin America over the next several months.â€
Uber will be watching carefully. In 2013, Alphabetâ€™s venture capital arm, GV, invested $250 million in the ride-hailing company. At the time, it made perfect sense: here was a disruptive startup out to change the way we all got around, and an established backer that could provide it with a little money, mapping support, and product integration to help it grow.
But Uber has grown into a behemoth valued at over $60 billion, investing in its own autonomous vehicle technology to keep ahead in anÂ increasingly crowded market. And Alphabetâ€™s new CFO, Ruth Porat, has tightened belts on audacious experiments, forcing Alphabet’sÂ own self-driving project, Waymo, to shelve plans to build a car and instead seek commercial success.
Now, Uber is testing robotic taxisÂ and Waymo reportedly plans to roll out a competing fleetÂ this year. If both also had successfulÂ software platforms to allocate to those vehicles in our self-driving future, then they’d beÂ eagerly eyeing one another’s lunch.
But that’s a little ways off. Currently, Alphabetâ€™s ride-sharing app remains markedly different from Uberâ€™s main ride-hailing service: it lacks its flexibility and, for now, a volume of drivers to make it an on-demand service. But itâ€™s easy enough to imagine many users being tempted to cut costs with Alphabetâ€™s offeringâ€”and driver volumes are likely high enough along popular commuter routes for it to take a share of Uberâ€™s customers in the process.
(Read more: Wall Street Journal, â€œUberâ€™s Robotic Taxis Are Headed to San Francisco,â€ â€œAlphabet Sets Up a New Company to Commercialize Autonomous Car Technology,â€ â€œGoogle Buys Waze, One of Few Truly Useful Appsâ€)
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