Delivering the Goods

Earlier this year, drivers for the Middle Eastern rideshare app, Careem, cruised empty through the streets of Najaf, Iraq. They weren’t waiting for customers. Instead, they were mapping houses with the help of GPS units attached to their vehicles. Collecting geographic coordinates doesn’t fit the normal job description for rideshare drivers, but these employees were working to fill an important gap in geospatial data. 
 
Many cities in the Middle East lack a registry of streets and addresses, streets often have multiple names, and numbering schemes can be chaotic. Without standardized addresses and postal codes, navigation is frequently done in relation to local landmarks. Still, neighborhood schools, mosques, and gas stations may not be familiar to drivers delivering packages or picking up rideshare passengers. The inability to pinpoint locations in a universal and consistent way is a barrier to all kinds of economic activity.
 
Businesses and customers are developing workarounds. A company called FODEL has created a network of centralized locations, such as gas stations or grocery stores, to accept deliveries. With a small fraction of the number of targets, the challenge of identifying points becomes much easier. Fetchr, a Dubai-based company, launched an app that uses GPS coordinates from a consumer’s phone to navigate to a delivery location. Earlier this year, Careem began attaching GPS units to drivers’ cars in select cities.
 
In years past, neighborhood stores delivered to local residents, and the address system worked adequately. As residents become more mobile, cities sprawl, and commerce shifts from local to global, the address system is undergoing a necessary revision. Now if there were only a solution for double-parked cars.

This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.