Waze: The Illusion of Movement

For the past two days, Waze, the navigation app, has been true to its word. If it says it will get me home at 7:17 pm, I’m there at 7:17 pm. On other occasions, it was off by a few minutes (from a couple to more than twenty in my experience).

The beauty of Waze is that it looks for open roads to your destination based on real-time traffic reports sent by Waze users. It calculates the fastest route to your destination and gets you going. If it discovers a route that will get you to your destination faster, then it will reroute you to take advantage of the opening. It also takes into consideration constructions, obstructions and, oddly enough, police presence along the routes. I’m not exactly sure how the last item helps you go through traffic but it’s there. Parenthetically, I think it’s a warning for traffic violators to wise up and obey traffic rules, at least in the areas where there are police reported. Note, it even tells you if the police are visible or hidden. Recently, I read an article that said US police forces were asking Google to disable the police tracking feature of Waze for fear it might be used to target police officers. No word yet if the campaign has gotten any traction.

Tonight though I had one of those lightbulb moments and asked myself how much help is Waze? I mean, sure, it’s pretty helpful as it informs you of the possible causes of any buildup in traffic, including rain by the way, but does it really save you time? That’s the question I sought to answer.

So, before going home, I opened the app, activated the navigation feature and clicked “Home” as my destination. Waze computed and said it will get me home in an hour and thirty-four minutes or on 7:44 pm, choosing C5 as my route home (in QC) from my point of origin (Makati). Instead of following its instructions though, I turned the navigation off and took the EDSA route. I chose a single lane, stuck to it unless I had to overtake an extremely slow-moving car, and headed straight for home. Guess what? I arrived around 7:30 pm. Assuming Waze could have re routed me somewhere along C5 and saved me some minutes (historically, between 5 to 15 minutes), I still would have arrived at around the same time, 7:30 pm.

The thing about Waze is that, yes, it finds you an open road that will get you to your destination, but the distance covered by the open road more or less negates the time saved. The illusion of movement. You thought you were getting to your destination faster but, in truth, you were just taking a longer route that makes it appear you saved time.

Mythbusters and Top Gear Philippines did a study between lane changers and guys who stick to a lane to their destinations. In both studies, one held in California and the other in Metro Manila, it showed that, yes, lane changers do get to their destinations faster but not by much. Plus, lane changers were more stressed and harried than the stick to one lane drivers. The lesson, of course, is that it is better to stick to a lane and minimize lane changing to when it only becomes necessary. You’ll live longer that way.

Waze is the same, except that instead of lane changing, you’re road changing, but the total effect is the same. Your time saved isn’t substantial. Sorry Waze but that’s the truth. Does that mean we should dump Waze? Hell no! Waze is still a worthy app as it gives you alternate routes you never knew existed, the causes for traffic buildup, and, for traffic violators, fair warning on the presence of police officers in the area. It lets you interact with others; makes you feel good that you are able to help others; and, generally, reminds you of when and where you should turn. It’s a helpful social network of drivers and I would always recommend it for anyone. Just don’t think it’s a real time-saver. It’s not. It’s just you thinking it is.



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