Every time you open the Waze app on your smartphone to navigate around traffic on your commute – there's a map editor behind making sure you have an accurate and efficient route to work.
These volunteers for the company review and respond to user reports for everything from obstacles on the road, to construction to accidents. They also solve routing issues and add places to the ever-changing map.
Simply because they enjoy helping with traffic.
"It's a fun hobby," map editor Abigail Saunders said. "I'm putting my time towards something important and it helps everybody."
Map editors from all over the country are in Miami this weekend for the company's annual meetup to brainstorm new app features with its passionate volunteers. Miami-Dade County partnered with the app in 2016 to mutually share traffic and construction data.
"What are you doing in your area? This is what I'm doing in my area, maybe we can find a better way to do it," Brandon Molner said is what he gets out of the annual meetup.
He's one of the star volunteer map editors for the Southeast U.S. Editors get more and more authority to tinker with Waze maps around the country as they accumulate experience and expertise. From Jacksonville, Molner can update the Waze map when problems arise on the Palmetto—more than 300 miles away.
"I don't know how many times I've touched the Palmetto and the Dolphin," Molner said. "You have to look at lots of information, GPS points, go look at designs of the roadway…"
According to Waze, 1.1 million people use the app to get around in Fort Lauderdale and Miami every month, so there's a lot of user reports to sort through.
"That is one thing that we're always striving to do, is to make sure we're on top of everything. I mean, the construction here is like, nonstop," Saunders said.
Saunders has been editing maps for Waze for eight years. (She's at the Global Champ level now.) She often works with the Florida Department of Transportation and meets with local South Florida governments.
When Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm in 2017, Saunders was updating the Waze app.
"Closing down certain roads so people know which way to evacuate," Saunders said. "It's extremely vital."
For Hurricane Dorian last year, the app used evacuation zones for the first time.
"That is when we set up a perimeter and it lets you know if you are routing in or through an evacuation zone," Saunders said.
Waze brings its most-passionate volunteer map editors and together once a year to spend time with Waze staff and give their input on new app features before they go to the public.
A recent initiative the company is pushing, especially in dense, urban areas like South Florida – is the app's carpooling program.
"Waze has always been about helping people be smarter about getting around traffic, but at the end of the day there's only so much you can do to help people get around traffic," Dani Simons said. She is Head of Public Partnerships for Waze, including the one with Miami-Dade County. "We are the traffic. And we have to make less of it,"
Alice Bravo, Director of Transportation and Public Works For Miami-Dade County, said the county gets data from Waze that feeds into the smart signals, or coordinated traffic light system.
"Hopefully you hit more green lights because of this technology we've implemented," Bravo said. "If we had to develop these tools, it would take us a long time… [Waze] brings a lot of information together."
Molner said map editors do have advice for drivers:
"If you see a problem give us as many details as you can," Molner said." Tell us your exit, where you're coming from, sometimes even how many lanes you're dealing with will help us figure things out."