Airborne taxis don’t fly with skeptical Dubai commuters


DUBAI // Commuters have kept their feet well and truly on the ground over the latest plan to bring flying taxis to the skies above Dubai .

Taxi hailing service Uber said it would make airborne cabs a reality after choosing the emirate, along with Dallas, to develop its Uber Elevate Network of electric, vertical take-off and landing vehicles.

The company said it hoped to have a demonstration ready in time for Expo 2020.

But Uber customers have said the plan seems more science fiction than science fact.

“It might look good in a film set in the future but I don’t think the practicalities will make it a feasible choice for most customers,” said Jonathan Woakes, from Britain.

Mr Woakes, who uses Uber’s more conventional road-based taxi service, said he had doubts about the safety of the vehicles and wondered whether they would be piloted or unmanned.

“If they have pilots then I would imagine that will increase costs significantly, and if they are unmanned then I don’t think many people would have the confidence to trust it,” he said.

Although Uber customers think nothing of paying more for their ride home than they do with regular taxis, Cedric Pinto from the Philippines said the cost of booking a flying cab would most probably put off all but the most well-heeled people.

“Looking at all the infrastructure that will be required I don’t think it will be practical because it will be very expensive to put that in place,” Mr Pinto said.

“Unlike the normal taxi service I doubt it will be door-to-door, because the vehicles will probably only be allowed to land in certain areas for safety reasons, which means you might not go exactly where you want to.”

Uber, which announced its plans during the Elevate Summit in Texas on Tuesday, has linked up with Dallas-Forth Worth to offer the service.

“What started as a simple question, ‘why can’t I push a button and get a ride?’ has for Uber turned into a passionate pursuit of the pinnacle of urban mobility – the reduction of congestion and pollution from transportion, giving people their time back, freeing up real estate dedicated to parking and providing access to mobility in all corners of a city,” said Jeff Holden, its chief product officer.

“Urban aviation is a natural next step for Uber in this pursuit, which is why we are working to make ‘push a button, get a flight’ a reality.

“Dallas and Dubai are racing to the future and we can’t wait to see how on-demand flight accelerates these great cities.”

An Uber spokesman said that over time it was highly likely that the vehicles would become autonomous, although the company expects initial operations will require pilots.

In Dubai, the company is working with the RTA to study demand and to get a better understanding of pricing and the network required.

Uber has also recruited property companies, aircraft makers such as Embraer and Bell Helicopters, and electric charger manufacturers to look at the project.

The RTA confirmed it is working with Uber to conduct a joint study into pricing models, people movement and identification of potential routes in Dubai.

The authority said it would work with Uber and airspace authorities to design and identify usable take-off and landing locations, called VertiPorts, around the city.

This is not the first time flying cars have been predicted to make an appearance in Dubai.

In February, the Roads and Transport Authority announced a collaboration with Chinese company Ehang to launch driverless flying cars. The vehicle was exhibited at the World Government Summit, with a summer start date envisioned for flights.


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