Forget the new freeways, roads, high-speed rail links and bus corridors that are currently being built in our major capital cities. Ride-share company Uber thinks it hold the key to freeing up our clogged daily commute.
Last week Uber’s global head of aviation, Eric Allison, was in Australia meeting with politicians, policymakers and Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) representatives. He has indicated that either Sydney or Melbourne are possible trial locations for its UberAir service. ‘We want to go to a place where there is a demand for it and that has the need for it. [The city] has to have enough population density, but also a large geographic area so you end up with … development patterns that lead to congestion,’ he said. ‘It also needs to have a strong ground-based [Uber] business … and we also look at the weather, the local regulatory environment in terms of skyport permissions, what the electricity grid looks like, local real estate partners and then at the national level the aviation regulatory environment.’
But before either state could proceed with UberAir trials, Uber will need to be able to meet Australian Federal Regulations. But Federal Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Development, Michael McCormack, indicated the government was willing to work with Uber. ‘I support innovative aviation ideas such as the one proposed by UberAir,’ McCormack said. ‘CASA is considered among world leaders in drone regulations and has been assisting with other drone trials such as the one with Google X’s Project Wing trial in Canberra. It is essential these trials are controlled and conducted safely, with local communities consulted throughout the process.’
Trials could start as early as 2020 and if all goes to plan, passengers might be able to share short, cheap flights using Uber’s ‘flying cars’ by 2023. This futuristic method of transport could massively slash travel times in congested cities.
Uber has even identified a number of possible routes for its aircraft. For example, a two-hour trip by car in Sydney could become a 20-minute trip by UberAir. ‘Every day, millions of hours are wasted on the road worldwide,’ an Uber spokesman said in its mission statement for UberAir. ‘In Sydney, residents spend seven whole working weeks each year commuting, two of which are wasted unproductively stuck in gridlock. On-demand aviation has the potential to radically improve urban mobility, giving people back time lost in their daily commutes. Uber is close to the commute pain that citizens in cities around the world feel.’
At first the vehicles, which will eventually be autonomous, will be manned by pilots. Mr Allison said this would allow regulators to become more comfortable with the flying vehicles. ‘We’re trying to work within the existing set of aviation regulations and not require changes of rules because we think the fastest way to get to market is to work within the existing legislation and for any future rule changes to be driven by the work that we’re actually doing on the ground.’
The service will operate in a similar way to how you currently use Uber. Smartphone users will be able to request a ride using an app, catch a car to a Skyport, board an UberAir vehicle and another car from their landing point to their final destination.
Uber will announce the successful city for the trial before the end of the year.