Uber's flying taxi service pitched at government for trial in Australia

The company has asked for cooperation from Australian governments so it can demo Uber Air in the country as early as next year.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Uber wants to bring the trial of its flying taxi play down under, telling a House Infrastructure, Transport and Cities Committee on Thursday that it just needs Australian governments to work alongside the Silicon Valley darling to make that happen.

Uber Air is touted by the company as an "urban aviation ride-sharing product", with Uber's Australia and New Zealand head of cities Natalie Malligan telling the committee the plan is for customers to be able to "push a button and get a flight", just like they currently do with an on-road vehicle.

The company in August announced five possible markets to launch its pipedream: Australia, Brazil, France, India, and Japan. It also confirmed that from 2023, customers will be able to get a flight on-demand in Dallas and Los Angeles.

But before launch, the company needs to trial the initiative, and learning from past mistakes in Australia, Uber is asking for government support before it starts offering flights.  

Malligan said the final list for launch cities will be determined on where there are governments that want to work with the company for "workable solutions".

Uber in November revealed it was specifically interested in Sydney and Melbourne.

Describing Uber Air as a method for making longer trips, she said it is designed mainly for getting to places like the Sydney central business district from regions such as Western Sydney.

Facing the committee and its inquiry into automated mass transit alongside Malligan was Uber Australia and New Zealand public policy and government affairs lead Richard Willder, who said a trip from Melbourne airport to a less-metro area, for example, could cost the same as an UberX trip.

"The economic modelling is quite extraordinary, we would see that at the time of launch, it would be equivalent to the cost of an Uber Black -- the premium luxury car service," Wilder said. "[Based on the Uber Black service] Melbourne airport trip [could be] AU$100.

"Over time, the price reduces even further.

"We see a future where at scale, it would be the same price as taking a regular UberX."

Wilder proposed that he expected Uber to conduct flight demonstrations as early as 2020 before the service becoming commercial available in 2023. He also said partners such as Boeing have been demonstrating Uber Air's viability.

"On-demand aviation has the potential to change the way we think about urban transportation, and radically improve urban mobility by giving people back time lost in their daily commutes," Uber wrote in its submission [PDF] to the inquiry.

"Uber Air represents a unique opportunity for Australia -- including the local businesses Uber would partner with -- to be part of the development of this innovative technology."

Currently in Australia, Uber -- across its ride-sharing and UberEats platforms -- claims four million users across 39 cities.

"Our vision for ride-sharing is just the beginning," Mulligan said.

"In Australia we're focused on developing what we call Uber as a Platform. Our plan for an integrated future of transport, where someone can push a button and get from A to B in multiple modes ... we see ourselves as part of the solution for many of these challenges but we need governments sharing data, sharing API access."

Specifically, Mulligan said, customers could soon be able to book and pay for public transport in the Uber app, if a ride has been booked to take the passenger to a train station or bus stop, as examples.

"That obviously takes the onus on governments to allow access to systems, to allow access to the payments, and some of the infrastructure challenges that go with that," she said.


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