Uber has identified Melbourne as the first international city to test the company’s air taxis, after the shortlist was announced last August. Flights will be equal in price to Uber ground transportation over the same distance.
Melbourne will be the third pilot city for Uber’s urban air mobility ride-sharing program. Australia’s second most populous metropolis joins Dallas and Los Angeles, beating shortlisted cities in Brazil, France, India and Japan. More Australian cities are set to follow, said Susan Anderson, Uber’s regional general manager for Australia, New Zealand and North Asia, at the Uber Elevate Summit in Washington, DC, this week.
Test flights of the Uber electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicle, which is under development, are scheduled to start from 2020, with commercial operations to follow from 2023.
Melbourne had a number of factors in its favor, according to Anderson, including the fact that Australian governments have been forward-thinking in their approach to ride-sharing and new technologies. The city also has unique demographic and geospatial factors, as well as a culture of innovation and technology. Melbourne is the country’s leading technology city, as well as being Australia’s fastest-growing one – set to become the country’s largest by 2031 – with a diverse labor pool and research and development environment, and a modern regional transport network.
Australia has been a centre of research and development for unmanned aerial vehicles and drone technologies for many years. The country’s aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has been at the forefront of safety and regulatory research and development surrounding new technology air vehicles, while Boeing conducts considerable unmanned aerial vehicle research and development in the country and Google’s Wing project has approval for commercial services of its home delivery drone service after years of trials in Canberra.
Melbourne’s growing congestion also makes it an ideal trial city for Uber Air. “The 19km journey from the CBD [central business district] to Melbourne airport can take anywhere from 25 minutes to around an hour by car in peak hour, but with Uber Air this will take around 10 minutes,” said Eric Allison, global head of Uber Elevate. Uber Air will cost the same price as an UberX (private car rides for one to four people) trip over the same distance.
Uber will work with Macquarie Capital on the development of the skyports needed for Uber Air service; local communication company Telstra on network infrastructure and connectivity requirements; and Scentre Group, owner and operator of the Westfield shopping centers in Australia and New Zealand, as a preferred infrastructure partner. Uber is also cooperating with the state government of Victoria, Melbourne Airport and CASA.