It is great news that the European Commission has reached agreement with the satellite navigation “satnav” industry to stop sending traffic down residential streets.
Google bought Waze for US$1.3 billion in 2013. They clearly thought the user generated data about which streets were more or less busy had value and started including the information in their Google Maps product.
The changes will not be implemented for a couple of years. And the implementation of the changes concerns me. The devil will be in the detail.
How easy will it be for communities to convince Google they are a digital low traffic neighbourhood and should be geofenced? Google and other tech companies are faceless monoliths and rarely interact with the public beyond web forms.
One of the criticisms of low traffic neighbourhoods, rightly or wrongly, is that they benefit the wealthy and redirect traffic down the streets of poor people.
Now, I’m not quite sure I believe that as a general rule. But without keeping an eye on Google we might end up with the digital equivalent as better connected folk are able to have their neighbourhoods digitally protected.
Have you ever tried to correct an error on Google Maps? There are footpaths that Google refuses to recognise, sending walkers on long unnecessary detours. I tried to get Google to include one that is clearly visible on the satellite view. After much delay, they said there wasn’t enough evidence of its existence.
Good luck convincing them your street has too much traffic.
What happens if there is a dispute between streets? Is Google the judge and jury? Who will be able to see which streets have been protected? The local authorities? Residents?
And what happens if a new entrant decides to reinvent the wheel and start Waze 2.0 with new user generated data?
This is good news, but we need to keep an eye on it to make sure we don’t end up with an even less equitable outcome.