Melbourne, Australia, is Uber's third international pilot city for Uber Air, joining Dallas and Los Angeles as launch municipalities for the rideshare giant's air taxi venture.
"As a growing business, it was really important that the third city was outside the U.S.," Susan Anderson, regional general manager for Uber in Australia, New Zealand and North Asia, said June 11 at the Uber Elevate Summit in Washington, D.C.
Melbourne was pulled from a shortlist announced last year that also included cities in Brazil, France, India and Japan. The city will host test flights of Uber Air concept vehicles starting in 2020.
"Uber's regional offices and the Uber Air team have had numerous meetings with government officials, industry stakeholders and aviation regulators," she said. "We were looking for a place that has forward-looking regulatory regimes, environments that support innovation, and where a product like Uber Air can have a positive impact improving how people live and work in their cities."
From Melbourne Airport to the city is 19 km, but can take 25 to 55 minutes to drive, depending on traffic, Anderson said. Uber Air can cut that trip to between five and nine minutes, she said.
People commute to Melbourne from Geelong, about 75km south. The trip can take up to two hours by car or 18 minutes end-to-end in an Uber air, Anderson said.
Robin Scott, assistant treasurer of Victoria, Australia, said his country has been challenged by its vast landmass – about the size of the lower 48 U.S. states – with less than 10 percent of the U.S. population.
"Whether you are a business that needs to move goods across the country or you're a government that needs to deliver services across a broad area, overcoming the tyranny of distance has always been tricky," he said.
For that reason, Australia and particularly Melbourne are investing in innovative transportation projects, he said. Further, "Melbourne is undoubtedly the number-one tech city in Australia" with a strong economy that has experienced 27 years of continuous growth, Scott said.
"From the Victorian government's perspective, the Uber Air partnership announced today is a natural fit," he said. "Well-planned, forward-looking transport systems have always been an enabler of growth and prosperity. We see the potential of Uber Air to become an integral part of our region's transport system."
Uber also announced a partnership with Australian telecommunications company Telstra as its network infrastructure provider. Shopping center company Scentre Group will help with heliport location and ground infrastructure. McQuarie Capital's green infrastructure fund, a division of Australia's largest bank, is to focus on heliport infrastructure and electrification in Australia and the U.S., Anderson said.
Australians have "embraced the service" since Uber launched ridesharing there in 2012, Anderson said. The company now operates in 37 cities and towns, has more than 67,000 monthly drivers that carry nearly 4 million people every month. In the past three years, Uber Eats has grown from 100 restaurants to more than 20,000 restaurant partners in 24 cities in Australia and New Zealand, she said. The company has partnered with the Australian federal government and localities for other initiatives. In May it launched ScUber, a deal with Queensland to promote the great Barrier Reef with on-demand submarine rides.
Australia was targeted because of its large landmass and swiftly growing population, estimated to increase from 25 million to 35 million in the next few decades, Anderson said. Melbourne will be the first city to host Uber Air trials, but Anderson said other cities like Sydney would soon follow.
"With such a large landmass and small populations, Australia's cities grew out, not up," she said. "Like many American cities, they became dependent on private cars for transport. … Congestion is a growing problem. It's estimated it's costing Australia about 16.5 billion a year in lost productivity."
"Australian cities need transport alternatives that are faster, easier and cheaper than owning your own car."
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