St. Thomas — Any Virgin Islander who has used Uber’s ride hailing service has floated the idea — at least once — of hailing an Uber from anywhere in the territory. Residents and visitors, would be able to hail cabs, mainly driven by locals who have undergone background checks for access to Uber’s worldwide network. Today’s Tech Tuesday is a little more dreamy and optimistic, but brings up some key points on why Uber may not be drafting plans to enter the Virgin Islands anytime soon — or at all.
Population & Size
Uber quietly launched its ride hailing service in Puerto Rico in July of 2016. With the Virgin Islands less than 100 miles away, many who traverse both U.S. territories often wonder why the largest ride hailing company in the world hasn’t expanded its operations to one of the most popular ports in the Caribbean.
I’m sure at some point, Uber weighed its options about setting up shop in the Virgin Islands, like many tech companies do. As a large company seeking big gains and a more diverse cashflow, Puerto Rico’s population — which dwarfs that of the U.S. Virgin Islands with over 3.3 million citizens — was likely a key metric the company considered before expanding. The size and general population of Puerto Rico make it an attractive option for Uber, as it seeks to grow its fleet.
Sitting at 3,500 square miles compared to the combined 136 square miles of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John, Uber rides in Puerto Rico are generally longer and more valuable.
Because road conditions, sign placement and street markings in the Virgin Islands are so bad, and hazardous to monetarists and tourists, it’s the shortest section in this article. So here’s a photo.
In its early days, Uber was one of the first major taxi companies to partner with Google Maps to guide and direct its fleet of drivers. Google Maps owns the world’s largest mapping system, making Uber’s expansion plans easier since it didn’t have to build its own maps app.
Residential addresses on Google Maps are a mess in the Virgin Islands, even though new features like real time traffic and street view launched in the territory earlier this year.
Taxi Association Killer
If you’ve ever held a conversation with a taxi driver on either island about prices or service reliability, and compared your experience to Uber’s service, you’ll notice that local cab drivers are up to speed with the company’s moves. The Taxi Association dominates taxi services on all three islands making — making more money than Vitran daily.
The Department of Tourism offered a series of trainings to taxi drivers on all islands to improve gaps in services and customer service in the territory. Historically, the organization has pushed back on water taxis, services like Uber and expanded public transportation for residents and visitors.
Event though Uber cleared much of its legal hurdles in the United States and Europe years ago, in often runs into snags when met with local laws and rural areas with smaller populations. There have also been reports of the company weighing an investment in scooter rentals for rural areas and cities with heavy traffic congestion. This might actually be a pretty decent product launch for Uber to experiment with if it hoped to keep its scooter rental ambitions within the United States.
Companies like Uber want to leverage their networks and scale their business models to compete with rivals like Tesla, Lyft and Waymo. The Virgin Islands currently does not offer a significant long-term growth opportunities for Uber, which really explains why the company hasn’t invested in the territory to date.
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