Written by: Erin Nolan
I need to tell you about my new, best friend. He is a strange whitish-blue color and is shaped like a sideways teardrop. Strange, I know, but this guy has directed me home many times when I have been bewildered and lost in thislabyrinth of a city. He even tells me in an instant how I can avoid some serious traffic situations here in D.F., which, if you have ever driven a car with a toddler who has to pee urgently, is invaluable. His name: Waze.
When I first arrived in D.F. five years ago, I was pregnant, didn’t know anyone, and, though I had a car and was game to drive it, I didn’t even know how to get to Polanco to see my doctor for my monthly check-up. My husband would have to take me on practice runs on Saturdays and Sundays so I could get used to the five mile route. And I will never forget the night I spent two and a half hours on Fuente de Leones in Tecamachalco, trying to get to Prado Norte for my Lamaze class. I only knew one way to get to Prado Norte, and this was it. So I just had to sit in gridlock, listening to Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill; her angst really resonated with me as I just sat, and sat, and sat as cars continued to make “extra lanes” and clog the street around me to the point of an impasse. If only I had had Waze there to help me. You see, Waze would have told me to avoid Fuente de Leones at that time and would have selected an optimal route for me to reach my destination.
The key to Waze, a free application that you can download onto your phone or iPad, is that you are linked into a system where other drivers in your area can share real-time traffic and road information. So if, let’s say, I know where I am going, but there are several routes I can take to get there, I can put my destination into Waze, and the application will show me the fastest route to get there right now.
According to their website, by connecting drivers to one another, Waze “helps people create local driving communities that work together to improve the quality of everyone's daily driving.” So you can add road reports in real-time, helping others to avoid traffic, and the system will take other drivers’ reports and do the same for you.
I used to struggle with my GPS that was stuck to my windshield. For some reason, I just never had luck with the darn thing. The maps weren’t updated, so the GPS would try to send me down one-way streets the wrong way, or the GPS would not recognize the address of my destination the way I had entered it. No matter how many GPS devices we bought and how “updated” they supposedly were, they just never worked for me consistently. But Waze, well, he knows how to treat a lady. He NEVER tells me that the address doesn’t exist, and he will do everything he can to get me where I need to go. If there is a map discrepancy, I just press a button, and the Waze system alerts a team that corrects the map within a short period of time.
But what if I don’t know the correct address? What if I need to find a Superama in an unfamiliar neighborhood, or a certain mall only knowing the “colonia”? Well, Waze gives users the option of using other search engines to find a destination, including Google and Foursquare.
I even use Waze when I take a taxi to the airport to politely suggest to the driver which way is the best (yes, I am sure they love that, but when you NEED to get on that flight and the teachers’ union is striking at the airport, you need to know how to get in there come Hell or high water!)
So, practically speaking, how does it work?
After typing in the destination address, users just drive with the app open on their phone to passively contribute traffic and other road data, but they can also take a more active role by sharing road reports on accidents, police traps, or any other hazards along the way, helping to give other users in the area a “heads-up” about what's to come.
But I am not very tech savvy....
Trust me, neither am I, so I truly believe that if I can use this app effectively, anyone can. And the more people use it, the more accurate it gets!
Isn’t it distracting while you drive...?
Compared to two toddlers squabbling in the backseat while they watch “Finding Nemo” for the five-hundredth time, not really! I actually turn off the app’s sound (the mispronunciations of the street names were a little distracting) and just glance down at it on my phone when I am at a red light.
But what if I miss a turn...?
Just like a regular GPS, Waze will re-direct you to your destination if you happen to miss a turn. With the spaghetti bowl of narrow, overlapping streets here, this happens to me frequently, but I always make it to where I’m going!
Thanks to Waze, I have learned many back roads (or “atajos”), and my life as a driver in D.F. has vastly improved. Long gone are the days when, after 40 minutes of driving in circles and asking passersby for directions that only confused me more, I have to hail a taxi and pay it to lead me to a destination. So if you are one of the brave souls who, like me, dares to maneuver a car around Mexico City, I recommend you make a date with my new, best friend: WAZE.