An illustration shows what Uber's flying vehicles will look like.

Transportation

UberAir May Only Worsen Dallas’ Transportation and Inequality Problems

Will a world in which a ride-share service can whisk you across town high above traffic really be a better place?

Uber’s vision of a futuristic era of flying drones that ferry Dallasites over and above clogged streets is still a ways away. But last week, the ride sharing company took a few more steps towards realizing their transportation dream by announcing a new partnership with NASA to test a handful of air shuttle service pilot programs, including one program in Dallas. Uber first announced the partnership to build a Frisco “ventriport” with helicopter adventurer Ross Perot Jr.’s Hillwood Company back in April.

But should we  buy the Silicon Valley-based company’s argument that adding air service will usher-in a better and brighter future? Or, just as the promise of automobile travel created an economy based on inefficient sprawl that we are still trying to legislate and build our way out of, will it only worsen existing problems with transportation inequality?

That’s the argument made in this article over on CityLab, which looks at how the ride-share air service might exacerbate existing issues with inequality and eroding public services. In a city like Los Angeles, which is well ahead of Dallas in terms of its efforts to reverse the negative impacts of automobile-driven sprawl, UberAir could undo that momentum:

Ride-hailing companies already seem to be undermining those goals; UberAir would do so even more explicitly. Setting aside the the many practical questions yet to be answered (the electro-choppers don’t quite exist yet, for one), the fundamental model here—a network of private, high-rise launchpads—does not a walkable city make. Nor an equitable one: Even if UberAir somehow overcomes the safety, technology, and regulatory challenges and delivers on super-low fares, consider that adoption of UberX has been highly uneven across income and education brackets. Poorer Americans aren’t riding Ubers and Lyfts like they’re riding transit. Meanwhile, bus routes are getting shortened and slashed. Ride-hailing, even when it’s shared, is creating a new class of transportation. UberCopters would give rise to an even loftier one.

We’ve been here before. At the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, the public was wowed by the Futurama exhibition, which depicted a magical vision of a new world in which all Americans  whisked around in personal cars carried above neighborhoods and homes on new elevated concrete highways.

If we have learned anything from the era of the automobile, it is that the promise of technology is not, in and of itself, a social good.  Just because capacities exist for changing the way we move around cities, that doesn’t mean that they should be embraced wholeheartedly before all of the potential impacts and implications are studied and weighed.

Comments

  • Interesting article. I’ve recently had a conversation with a neighbor that is working on the hyper-loop project in Texas. He believes the the two types of transportation in the future will be 1. the hyper-loop (of course), and 2. flying, automated cars.

    As for the social good this author of this article hesitates upon.. Flying, electric cars that drive themselves will emit no pollution and being automated, be ultra safe. The social good looks bright!

    • Chris Ullom

      what we need is Uber Maids clean house and no commentary

  • C Newman

    Innovation for everyone or no one; that is the clear way to usher-in a better and brighter future.

    • Alexander Vasilenko

      You do realize that innovate cannot exist without inequality. The first computers were expensive and only the big companies could afford them. That gave computer companies the money to lower prices and expand the total number of people that can afford them. And so on. Now everyone can afford a computer.

      The same for electric cars. Tesla cars were not affordable, only the rich could buy them, this gave Tesla the money and experience needed to make a more affordable car. If the Model 3 succeeds they will be able to lower the price even more.

      Technologies are always for the rich first, the rich are the ones that provide the initial funding that lowers the costs.

  • dallasmay

    You forgot one key aspect: It will never happen so don’t worry.

    Just think about it. These self-flying planes will cost at least a cool $1B to develop and construct. That’s before having to construct dozens of heliports throughout the region at a cost of 10’s of millions of dollars each. What is the price of the ticket going to be for that? $800? $1000 a trip? Meanwhile they are competing with regular ol’ cars. Is your time really worth $1000 to save 15 minutes getting to the airport? No. It’s not. Even for rich people. And the people that are THAT rich already have their own private helipad and pilot anyway.

    There is zero market for this.

    • Alexander Vasilenko

      It won’t be that expensive, but a ticket will cost around $150 for a trip that would cost $40 on Uber and $10 on public transportation. Most people will not pay for that, but it will be used by the rich to avoid traffic. And only in a few cities.

      • Los_Politico

        And traffic in Dallas isn’t really bad enough to justify it. CEOs and uber wealthy folks don’t have long commutes– office in the Crescent? Live in HP. Fly every week, live in Southlake. 15 minutes tops.

        • Alexander Vasilenko

          Didn’t have Dallas in mind, but NYC, LA, or Bay Area going across the bay.

          • Los_Politico

            Dallas is one of the first 3 markets supposedly getting the service.

          • Alexander Vasilenko

            Well that’s the company’s problem. If they see a potential that I missed than it’s good for them.

  • Alexander Vasilenko

    Flying transportation will never be cheap enough to compete with a bus or metro system. Especially if the buses and metros become full electric with no operator.

    Flying would be for the first few years a luxury of the rich to avoid traffic.

    • dallasmay

      $150 is impossible. Think about it. Even if they had 100% of the technology and development paid for already (which they don’t), And even if they could build each one of those things at the cost of a Honda Civic ($20k, which is laughably ridiculously cheap), they STILL have to construct the friggin’ veloports. Those are going to cost millions each. You will never make up your price at $150 per ride.

      • Alexander Vasilenko

        You don’t need fancy pads, just make a deal with a few skyscraper owners to use the roof. It’s not like they are doing anything with it.

        • dallasmay

          You can’t just drop a helipad on any roof. If a roof is capable of having a helipad on it, it already has one.

        • Los_Politico

          That works in the CBD, but where are the people going home to? Will they get to use Bushes helipad in Preston Hollow? No way NIMBY areas like North Dallas approve zoning for this to work.

  • Greg Brown

    Ah. . . .the next Monorail.