Uber takes its flying taxi ambitions to Australia

Corey Johnson

Uber will bring flying taxis to Melbourne as the ridesharing company begins a trial of the service.

Uber plans to eventually deploy a fleet of flying cars to ferry its passengers around urban areas, but while we patiently await the Jetsons-age, the company's Uber Elevate division is launching a new helicopter service in New York City.

According to Susan Anderson, Regional General Manager for Uber in Australia, New Zealand and North Asia, Australian governments have adopted a "forward-looking approach to ridesharing and future transport technology" - making the ground-breaking trial possible.

So, why Melbourne? It's not Australia's largest or most cosmopolitan city, though it's reasonably close on both counts.

Victorian assistant treasurer Robin Scott said he was "delighted" Melbourne had been chosen for the trial, while Melbourne Airport spokeswoman Lorie Argus said there was "fantastic potential for Uber Air in the future".

He said the 19 kilometre journey from Melbourne's central business district to the airport would take some 10 minutes with Uber Air, down from up to an hour by auto.

The really wild part is that Uber plans on starting test flights as early as 2020 and hopes to have the program commercially viable and available to the public by 2023 - which, if you couldn't tell, is an incredibly short timeline.

Macquarie Capital will partner with Uber Elevate to develop skyports for the vehicles' take off and landing, while Telstra will use 5G to support Uber's technology.

"This, coupled with Melbourne's unique demographic and geospatial factors, and culture of innovation and technology, makes Melbourne the flawless third launch city for Uber Air".

One of Uber's electric air taxis.

The rideshare company has been a disruptor to traditional taxi services in Australia and is now facing a class action lawsuit from taxi drivers.

Uber has proposed using auto park roofs - including those of shopping centres - and existing helipads to run the service.

Centre for Urban Research expert Chris De Gruyter was sceptical about whether Uber Air can can solve transport problems.

It had taken the state almost three years to decide how to legislate ride-hailing services such as Uber, announcing back in September 2015 that it was preparing to regulate the service amid concerns from the local taxi industry.

The air taxis will ultimately be able to carry people across cities for no more than the price of a regular taxi service, and Uber expects a 19km ride from Melbourne Airport to the CBD would take just 10 minutes.



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