Uber is changing the urban transport landscape by offering 8-minute helicoper flights to JFK aiport. Just three years after Uber’s flying car project, New Yorkers can now skip traffic for just over $200 USD. As the tech company transforms the taxi and transporation industry, service providers are left behind.

Uber Copter

On July 9th, Uber launched its first helicopter ride service from Lower Manhattan to JFK airport. Passengers can now book an Uber Copter helicopter flight up to 5 days in advance. The launch comes just three years after the inception of Uber’s flying car project by a team running Uber elevate. Helicopters and autonomous flying cars are just some of uber’s plans to “change the future of urban mobility” , according to their mission statement.

Tech promises to solve traffic

Ubran transportation is an issue that tech has promised to conquer in the last decade. Tesla’s founder, Elon Musk, has launched ambitious plans to create a network of underground tunnels for cars to use instead of roads. Urban and inter-city congestion remains the ultimate problem to be solved. The solution that actually gets adopted is bound to change the face of urban transportation in strides.

On April 26th of this year, Uber’s IPO brought their value up to $91.5 billion, the second largest public offering in history after China’s Alibaba debut in 2014. Autonamous cars were poised to be the next move for fighting congestion, with testing under way and over $457 million in R&D to jump start operations. A woman’s death in Arizona however haulted the testing for Uber’s autonomous rides for 9 months. This was the first casualty related to driverless technology.

“What we see in today’s sad news is another example of tech experimentation outpacing thoughtful regulation,” said Elizabeth John, A U.C. Davis law professor in response to the tragic event.

A new transportation paradigm

Wether underground or in the air, transportation is shifting into a new paradigm. Uber Copter is perhaps attempting to pave the way for their Elevate project, an ambitious mission based on autonomous air transport. Autonomous seems to be the main buzz word here. The tech involved still isn’t 100% effective or safe, and regulators are still toiling with policies for a technology that is simply too new to be legally accounted for.

However, Uber is currently largely favored by policy makers in major cities such as New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Officials have passed laws that enable labor benefits for drivers in an effort attract more ride-sharing enterprises.

The impact of the sharing economy on transportation

One of the direct consequences of Uber is its role in the “sharing economy” game. Air bnb and several other firms are disrupting sectors by poolling the resources of the masses. Not a single hotel was purchased to shelter Air Bnb guests while no cabs were licensed to provide Uber passengers with rides.

Uber has made significant headway across American cities to operate as an independent service providing transportation , but does not claim to be a taxi company to avoid lawsuits. This would be the first of many tensions with the taxi industry.

The deal is sweet for all parties- end users pay less for rides and drivers earn more independently. This Today however, Uber drivers are barely making ends meet. While Uber drivers were promised around $5000 USD for their first month of service, salaries quickly plunged once the service took off. A number of studies and surveys indicate that while Uber drivers earn more on hourly, earnings don’t include many other expenses that typical independent drivers face including insurance, gas and maintenance.

Uber and Lyft logos on windscreen
photo credit: WBUR

Shared economy startups are still going through a steady learning curve. Satisfying both end users and service providers has been an uphill battle. Lyft , Uber’s main rival has been paying attention on this front. While they may only have a third of the market share, their growth is steady and their net losses are less than Uber’s.

The learning curve should also apply to service providers , who deserve to be perceived as valuable assets that are pivotal for operations to succeed, not underpaid labor to be left behind.

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