Uber’s CBD air raid

Melbourne has been named by multinational transport giant Uberas one of three global locations to host its aerial taxi service trial in the CBD. 

Uber Air seeks to link transport hubs, such as Melbourne Airport, to central CBD locations, with flight-testing due to begin in late 2020. The company said it planned to run commercial operations in 2023.

Selected alongside United States cities Dallas and Los Angeles, Melbourne was chosen after an 18-month process ahead of major cities from the likes of Brazil, France, India and Japan. 

Uber Elevate, the division of Uber developing the ambitious ridesharing mode, will partner with the state government, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and other key organisations in the lead up to the trial. 

Treasurer and Minister for Economic Development Tim Pallas said he was “thrilled” about the new partnership and its potential to enhance Victoria’s transport network. 

The service would use an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft known an eVTOL to transport passengers. Uber estimates that the eVTOL aircraft would operate at noise levels comparable to a Toyota Prius at around seven to eight metres from the listener, driving by at 56 km/h. eVTOLs are designed to carry four passengers, plus a pilot.

The service would function via the Uber app, allowing passengers to travel across a number of landing pads known as “Skyports” on various rooftops throughout the CBD. 

As part of preliminary discussions with Uber, the state government said that it had facilitated meetings with industry and government stakeholders in partnership with Invest Victoria. 

A government spokeswoman said that Uber would build on those relationships and engage with critical stakeholders to determine where and how demonstrations of Uber Air would take place. 

“Before trial flights and demonstrations can proceed, Uber will need approval from all regulators and authorities for their aircraft, routes and skyports,” the spokeswoman told CBD News. 

“We will work with Uber as they consult councils, the community and regulators ahead of their demonstration flights.” 

Speaking at the announcement of Uber’s global Elevate (Uber Air) Summit in Washington on June 11, regional general manager for Uber in Australia, New Zealand and North Asia Susan Anderson said: “Australian governments have adopted a forward-looking approach to ridesharing and future transport technology.”

“This, coupled with Melbourne’s unique demographic and geospatial factors, and culture of innovation and technology, makes Melbourne the perfect third launch city for Uber Air. We will see other Australian cities following soon after.”

While Uber has committed to community consultation in lead up to the trials, the City of Melbourne’s Cr Rohan Leppert said council had not been party to any agreement with the state government. He also questioned the initiative’s impact on helping ease congestion. 

“If we’re actually serious about moving people, it’s a mode of transport for the wealthiest that will do nothing for congestion,” Cr Leppert said. 

Research fellow at RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research Dr Chris De Gruyter said that Uber Air would not assist with transport issues in the CBD. 

“Uber Air isn’t going to help with managing our urban transport problems. These vehicles are very low capacity – similar to what a car could carry – while there are also questions about if these vehicles will create visual clutter in the sky and how environmentally friendly they are,” Dr De Gruyter said. “Another risk is ‘empty running’, where there are no passengers, but the vehicle has to travel to pick people up from another location.” 

RMIT aerospace engineer Dr Matthew Marino said that the announcement of Uber Air’s trials was not showing progression in technology. 

“The technology for autonomous aerial transport – also known as drones – already exists. Today’s announcement means Melbournians are a step closer to travelling by drone,” Dr Marino said. 

“Allowing a computer to fly an aircraft, rather than a human, is nothing new. Technology has progressed so much that aerial autonomy is considered safe and reliable, arguably more so than driverless cars.”

“While a driverless car would be faced with obstacles on the road, like pedestrians on their mobile phones or other vehicles like trams and buses, aerial autonomous vehicles don’t have these obstructions.”

This will not be the first time Uber has offered an air service in Melbourne.Last year Uber offered one-way helicopter flights from Batman Park to Flemington Racecourse via the Uber Chopper App for the 2018 Melbourne Cup Carnival. 

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