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As Ridesharing Companies Congest The Streets, They Look Somewhere Else: The Skies

By Henry Salem '20, Staff Writer

· Henry Salem

A recent working report by the University of California at Davis has revealed what many have already thought: Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services are congesting traffic and destroying city transit. While this report is rather new, it is a possibility that advances an already-present discussion on the capacity to which rideshare companies are allowed to exist in U.S cities. Despite the current administration’s continued attack on anything believed to be environmentally friendly, there has been resistance from major U.S cities against Uber and Lyft, and this report will likely add more fuel to the fight.

 

Ridesharing companies were originally developed as an attack on public transit and an attempt to mitigate carbon emissions. Unfortunately, neither of those objectives have been accomplished. Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing companies are engaging in a battle over urban transportation, but the fight has begun to take a different shape. In a recent press release Uber announced that it was moving forward with its plans to develop flying car transportation, a plan it states will be in place by 2020.

 

This next frontier, bringing urban transportation to the skies, is one that has begun to develop over the last couple of years. The European aerospace company Airbus recently stated that it was making an investment in the New York aviation start-up Blade; Boeing recently acquired Aurora Flight Sciences, which specializes in autonomous piloting systems; a Santa Cruz start-up Joby Aviation acquired $100 million toward the development of its “air taxi,” and Larry Page has side projects with Alphabet and personal developments working towards similar air taxi transportation vehicles.

 

Uber plans to host an event in Los Angeles, which will include demonstrations, in May. The response to this among technology writers and other critics, such as Elon Musk, has been generally negative. Uber has been criticized for their time frame of testing (many believe the 2020 timeframe to be overly ambitious and unlikely), while Musk believes that the general public will not be very receptive to having lots of flying vehicles close overhead, especially given the negative reception to drones. While Musk’s response reeks of jealously, his sentiment is one that is widely felt.

 

People have difficulty imagining the world and technology twenty to thirty years in the future, and this is completely fair. With this must come the understanding that society and the way humans live will be increasingly different as technology progresses. The back-and-forth between the Uber announcements and the public response is similar to a point made by robotist Rodney Brooks in his piece for the MIT Technology Review last year, in which he wrote that humans “tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” What this means, in the case of Uber, is the goals set in the short run (testing by 2020) are often overestimated or over exaggerated. In the long run; however, we cannot conceive the form that “air taxi” transportation will take nor the types of tools we will have to manage it.

 

For this reason, it is impossible to consider what the future of rideshare transportation will look like. To shun its development based off of incomplete conceptions of what the future looks like would be foolish. Though this mode of transportation seems distant, it is important for companies to continue push the boundaries of innovation. If ridesharing companies are able to fix this latest hurdle of urban congestion, their future looks bright.

 

With more and more rideshare services picking city passengers up and congesting streets by the day, the future of urban transportation appears to be making a move for the skies. In doing so, start-ups, large companies, and wealthy individuals are putting their money into the development of air taxi transportation. It is critical the public maintains an open mind to this progression, as holding doubts based on ignorance of an unknown future can halt the development of a revolutionary technology before it gets far. Air taxis may not be the definite end to this development, but in order to keep making progress, we must allow for the technology and ideas to grow and build without hindering their development by criticizing an unknowable future. You might not be riding in UberAir next year, nor in 2020, but that shouldn’t stop you from wanting modes of transportation to develop with time.

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