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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Waze is worth it - if only for the crowd-sourced traffic report

An example of the crowd-source traffic
information  on Waze that allowed us to
identify the need for an alternate route.
Reported by Thomas L. Grounds with iTRAK: While taking a drive up to Denver Colorado this past weekend, I was able to test out the Waze application I had downloaded for free on my iPhone.  Waze is a GPS based navigation app which provides turn-by-turn navigation, as well as user submitted travel times and route details.

Driving from Colorado Springs to Denver is typically a 30-40 minute drive each way.  On the way up to Denver, my wife and I noticed that traffic was fairly slow and heavy on I-25 headed south.  On our way home, my wife asked if I could check the traffic on I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs - so we could potentially take an alternate route at Castle Rock, just south of Denver.

Once we were beyond that point we were essentially committed to staying on I-25. I quickly explained why traditional traffic updates were a potential problem for us - that most of the updates come over special receivers on FM, Bluetooth or satellite radio systems, and generally cost a monthly fee to subscribe to.  Since we don't often travel outside of our area, this isn't really cost effective.

Additionally, not all areas are covered by the service. Heavily populated areas like LA, and New York - certainly, but probably not the small areas that we typically drive to on the weekend.  So, the question was - could a smartphone app save the day?
A screen shot of the response we
received from the new Google Maps
application on my iPhone.

I initially checked the traffic using a Google Maps app - but it indicated that it didn't have coverage for our particular area - which was surprising since the Denver metropolitan area covers a fairly large geographical area and has more than 2.6 million people in the vicinity.  I also checked my twitter account to see if the Denver Post had any updates that might have been relevant; there were several about local flooding, but none that seemed applicable to our drive down I-25.

Then I switched to Waze.  When asked for a route to my home (a setting it had created just after the app was downloaded), it quickly came up with a route down I-25 for us.  But when I checked the crowd-source traffic information it gave us the bad news - traffic was at a stop on the highway.

Lucky for us the information came back in enough time so that we were able to setup an alternate route home through Sedalia CO on highway 67; a rough and mountainous road through Deckers CO, but much more scenic - and perfect for a weekend drive.

It looks as if Waze does not quite have all of the traffic information integrated into the routing application yet.  The app continued to try and route us down I-25 to the traffic jam till we forced a route to Sedalia, and then to Deckers before heading home.  Nevertheless, the update regarding the traffic, and our ability to avoid it made it worthwhile.

Waze is being acquired by Google in a buyout estimated to be worth about $1B USD.