Local USVI News

Why doesn’t Uber or Lyft work in the USVI? Explained

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“So a lot of people are asking and we see this question on social media all the time. Why doesn’t uber work here or why can’t I get DoorDash. Explain to us in detail why we don’t have those services here,” USVI News Lesley Comissiong said.

Chris George (Administrator, GIS Division, Lt. Governor’s Office.)

“So in Puerto Rico, which I think most people are familiar with, the major cities in Puerto Rico, San Juan, Caguas, Mayaguez, have some sort of Uber DoorDash delivery infrastructure going on. Now that’s only in the cities, you can’t get it outside the cities in the country-side, down South anywhere like that,” Chris George, Administrator of the GIS Division in the Lt. Governor’s Office said.

“So what Uber and these folks did, Lyft and they did, they came down to Puerto Rico and they started Geo-Tagging structures, restaurants, buildings, parks, roads and what not. So they have a nice comprehensive model of how some of the major cities work. Unfortunately, Uber has that data. So it’s monopolized and privatized within Uber. It’s not public. It’s not something Lyft can go get. It’s not something the government of Puerto Rico can go get from Uber. So in order to make the playing field even, and that’s been a concern for me especially here in the territory, small community, we have a lot of taxis, you know, the taxi industry is so huge here. Is that you want to make an even playing field. You don’t want Uber to have a monopoly on location information. You don’t want Lyft to have a monopoly on location information, DoorDash, none of them. If they come here, and they’ve been talking about it, they will have a monopoly without us doing the street addressing initiative. So what evens the playing field for everyone is that we create a standardized addressing grid that is public, that is not privatized, it’s open source and everybody has access to it,” Chris George said.

Why some USVI addresses work in GPS

“Well they’re folks that say now, we’ll I’ll put my address in. Or friends, relatives show up at the airport, I give them my address and it works at some locations or it works for me. Why isn’t it working for everybody? Commissiong asked.

“So we’ve been over the last five years, we’ve been the official authoritative source of Virgin Islands information for the territory. So that means we’ve been siphoning information to google, to apple maps, to Tom Tom. Throughout all islands including the outer keys and whatnot. So you see over the last couple of years, the data is getting better and better and better,” George said.

“But we don’t want to take the jump and making them switch to some arbitrary system like what Uber and Lyft has. We want google to take on the street addressing data once we finish. So we’ve been pushing data to them. Stuff is getting more accurate, more accurate and more accurate. But it’s not comprehensive until we finish the project,” George said.

How GIS Mapping In the USVI Works

“Let’s go through the process of mapping the island, and why the islands aren’t mapped. Some people are like, ‘I live in Atlanta and Atlanta is mapped. Or I live in Tampa, Tampa is mapped. Why is it taking the Virgin Islands so long?” Commissiong asked.

“So where we are, as far as mapping in the territory, it’s the same process in the states. You have your plot address, your parcel, where your house sits,” George said.

“And that for viewers to understand that’s like my address, ‘Anna’s Retreat 215-64 or whatever….Those addresses. Those are plots. Those aren’t addresses.  And there’s a big difference,” Comissiong said.

“There’s a big huge difference,” George said.

“Let’s talk real quickly about the difference between a plot and an address,” Comissiong said.

“So that plot itself is created by your municipality, wherever you live in order to establish your ownership, your boundaries of ownership. Your square footage. Where you are in the territory. That is managed by Cadastral, your local Cadastral office. So when you do a map, your surveyor does a map, he files at Cadastral, gets registered, your plot then becomes official. Official within the government of the Virgin Island, property taxes, ect. etc. etc.” George said.

“So what is missing, and what has been attempted so many times in the past, so many past iterations, that’s kind of why we really want to get it right this time. Is implementing a street address grid across the board. From town to country, all the outer keys, and that’s the piece that has been missing. No one has fully been able to get together a comprehensive street grid that merges what happened by the Danes in town to what’s going on outside. So you have a street grid that happened, a loose street grid that the Danes did when they were here. So you have Christiansted, Frederiksted, Cruz Bay and Charlotte Amalie, within the historic districts all have some sort of addressing. Street addressing based on the streets. That does not extend anywhere else. It can’t get you anywhere else, it doesn’t help anything outside the historic district. So we needed to come up with something that really puts everything together properly, according to national standards, merging cadastro properly, merging the geocodes properly, everything properly, making it open source, and available to everyone,” George said.

“So it’s a huge project. I mean the Governor himself said it’s the most important infrastructure project in Virgin Islands modern day history. So we really need to get it done. It’s taking a while because there’s a lot of funding. It’s a large scale project. So we’re taking the time to make sure it’s right,” George said.

Timeline to Complete GIS Mapping in the USVI

“Do you have a ballpark as far as how much longer it will take for all of this to be complete?” USVI News Alli Bourne-Vanneck asked.

“Well we crossed a huge milestone this week actually. The project is available for public comment right now, through HFA. So that means the public has no commentary, no questions or concerns it moves onto the stage of the funding process. Which is from Housing, Urban Development, they start writing the checks. We’re hoping to be on the streets by July,” George said.

“And completed by when? Comissiong asked.

“And completed by next July,” George said.

“Going back to the point of an address because I want individuals to understand this. An address in the states is based on cardinal directions, you know east, west, north, south, side of the street that you’re on…there’s even and there’s odd. We’re looking at bringing that here essentially. And that has not existed in the territory,” Comissiong said.

“We’ve never had addressing based on streets. We’ve had addressing based on land. On plots on the estate,” George said.

“And that’s not how a GPS or GIS system necessarily works,” Comissiong said.

“It is one data set that is a part of the GIS. So you have your plot information, you have your street information and you pile on everything else. You’re ecological, you conservation, DPNR stuff. So it is something that is missing, but something that is tied together with your plot indefinitely,” George said.

Alli Bourne-Vanneck: “And I guess to put this into real world circumstances, this is why sometimes you might try to drop a pin and somebody has what they think is an address, but it’s not specifically for where you are. It might be for the general plot, or land. So then you have somebody circling, going down here. Just to put it into real world (example),” Bourne-Vanneck said.

“We did the first street view back in 2016. So you have street view for most of the major thoroughfares in St. Thomas, St. John, and in St. Croix it’s about 98 percent done. As far as street view. We can go online and pull the little guy down on the road and be able to look around on the street view,” George said.

“It’s a way that you can actually be on the street level and look around and see the stores, and shops and everything…But the thing is google is such a large monster, that for us a little territory it takes us awhile to re-submit, takes awhile for them to start the Q and A process. So we’ve been siphoning data as fast as we can with them. As fast as we can with the major mapping engines like apple maps, open streets. But until that street address is given to your structure, which contains your latitude, your longitude, your elevation, the street you’re on, until that is given to google we won’t ever have accurate location capabilities,” George said.

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