Flying taxi service to trial in Melbourne

Uber Air to begin test flights in the Australian city next year

An impression of what Uber's new flying taxi could look like
(Image credit: Uber Air)

Melbourne is set to be the first city outside the US to trial flying taxis, after Uber announced it would begin testing in the Australian city next year.

The ride-hailing giant, which has partnered with Nasa and the US Air Force to develop its flying taxi programme Elevate, has already conducted trials in Dallas and Los Angeles and says it hopes to offer a commercial service in Australia from 2023.

The Guardian says Melbourne beat cities in Brazil, France, India and Japan.

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The service will operate using the Uber app, allowing passengers to travel across a network of landing pads called “Skyports”, effectively shuttling from rooftop to rooftop.

Metro says Uber plans to take passengers to the sky “in a bid to ease congested roads on the ground, for the same price as an UberX trip over the same distance”.

According to the company, congestion currently costs Australia A$16.5bn annually and this is projected to rise to around A$30bn by 2030.

However, Centre for Urban Research expert Chris De Gruyter remains sceptical about whether Uber Air can solve 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,” he told the Guardian.

“Another risk is empty running, where there are no passengers, but the vehicle has to travel to pick people up from another location.”

CNN says “safety will also be a key concern for Uber in Australia”, where it currently has nearly four million customers of its regular ride-hailing service.

A rollout of Uber’s helicopter service from New York’s JFK Airport to Manhattan, which saves customers an hour of travel time and costs around $200, “is now clouded by safety concerns about increased air traffic in cities, following two accidents in New York City in recent weeks”, says the news network.

The BBC adds that “it comes at a testing time for Uber following a disappointing stock market debut last month”.

The US firm posted a $1bn (£790m) loss in its first earnings report amid strong competition from rival ride-hailing companies and extra costs related to its Uber Eats delivery service.

While its electric taxis will for now be flown by pilots, Uber will be hoping to steal a march on its competitors by being the first to develop fully autonomous, electric flying vehicles.

It faces stiff competition, however, with aviation giants such as Airbus, Boeing and Rolls Royce competing with a range of tech start-ups, including one funded by Google founder Larry Page, to develop the first viable passenger-carrying sky taxis.

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