Uber Air trial coming to Melbourne next year

Flinders Street Station and City Skyline, Melbourne

Uber has announced Australia as the first international market for Uber Air, with Melbourne being selected as the first official pilot city outside of the US.

Melbourne will join Dallas and Los Angeles as pilot cities for the program, with test flights due to start from 2020 and plans for commercial operations to commence from 2023.

“Since we entered the market in 2012, Australians have embraced Uber wholeheartedly. Today, over 3.8 million Aussies regularly use Uber as a reliable way to get from A to B, and governments across the country have recognised the important role ridesharing plays in the future of transport for our cities,” Susan Anderson, Regional General Manager for Uber in Australia, New Zealand and North Asia said.

Uber also announced partnerships with Australian companies: Macquarie, Telstra and Scentre Group and will work with key existing partners including Melbourne Airport who collectively will support the infrastructure and telecommunications needed to create a successful urban aviation network.

Uber Air aims to open up urban air mobility, and help alleviate transport congestion on the ground. In the long term, the vision is for safe, quiet electric vehicles transporting tens of thousands of people across cities for the same price as an UberX trip over the same distance.

“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.”

“The State Government of Victoria, Australia has been highly supportive, and we look forward to partnering with them to progress into this first international trial for Uber Air in Melbourne,” said Susan.

Uber states in an announcement that congestion is a growing concern for cities around the world, and Australia is not immune – congestion currently costs Australia $16.5 billion annually and increasing to around $30 billion by 2030.

However, Dr Chris De Gruyter, Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT says Uber Air isn’t going to help with managing Melbourne’s 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. Another risk is ‘empty running’, where there are no passengers, but the vehicle has to travel to pick people up from another location.

“The big question is what kind of trips Uber Air will be used for. More than half of trips in metropolitan Melbourne – seven million a day out of 13 million – are less than 5km, according to latest available data.  Only 13% of trips are more than 20km and less than 2% are more than 50km.

“Based on what travel survey data tells us, we might see skyports at key activity centres and employment hubs like the airport, Melbourne CBD and other key precincts like Clayton or Dandenong,” he says.