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Google Maps + rideshare

March 25, 2014

Google Maps works well for me when I use public transit or walk, but I often use UberX or Lyft to get around.  In particular, I often want to compare the costs and times of using rideshare to that of public transit.  It seems like Uber, Lyft, and normal cabs would all be happier businesses if, whenever you searched how to get from destination A and destination B by car (or maybe even public transit), it also estimated how much each service would cost.  This could probably be built pretty unobtrusively in the UI.  It could also be user enabled/disabled (and it would only appear in cities where the services exist, of course).

Complications:

  • Estimate prices is tricky, especially because of UberX surge pricing and/or Lyft happy hour.  But Uber and Lyft would be highly incentivized to make a good API for this, if Google was willing to use it (and it seems Google is willing to do something of this form for BART and MUNI, and it works fairly well, in my experience).  But surge pricing and happy hour are not known in advance, so the prediction would be slightly poor for later times.
  • Estimating time is tricky (relative to estimating time of driving) as well, if one wants to take into account the time it takes to get the driver (this wouldn’t affect the transit time, just the start time, analogous to the way it works for public transit).  Again, Uber and Lyft could make an API for this, but it would only make sense for if you are looking to travel very soon.

I’m guessing Google Maps doesn’t care to do explicit deals with businesses, but adding this feature makes sense to Google in other ways:

  • It would make the Maps service better for people like me.
  • Google has already shown interest in Uber, investing $258 million in the company.  I suspect Google is interested in the rideshare model, since it could potentially be a natural entrance for self-driving cars.  Also maybe learning things about the market and UI for Maps+rideshare would inform them of how to do things in the future when self-driving cars are ubiquitous.

This feature might increase emissions/traffic very slightly, since it would drive people off public transit onto rideshare.  I’m guessing this effect is tiny (and I currently don’t take externalities into account at all, when deciding whether to take public transit or rideshare) and Google wouldn’t care much about it.  Also, the rideshare of the future, with larger cars and multiple pickups, might be more efficient than the public transit it displaces, so it might actually be better to encourage it.

EDIT (12/25/2014):  I totally forgot about this post, but I’ve seen Uber prices integrated into Google!  Indeed, it was integrated just last month, on 11/05.  SEE: http://blog.uber.com/googlemaps

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