Flying cars or flying pigs? What Uber’s first decade has taught us

Uber was in the headlines last week when it announced Melbourne would be the first city outside the USA to trial its planned flying taxi service.

And pigs might fly as well!

While no-one can deny the ride-share giant’s ingenuity, let’s keep in mind the timing of this somewhat fantastic declaration.

Uber’s much hyped public float is just over a month old, and the birth was a rocky one. After a 17 percent drop within the first 48 hours, its share price took almost four weeks to recover to the initial US$45 IPO.

Now a decade old, Uber has lost more than US$8 billion since launching in 2009. That makes it the biggest loss-making start-up in history. Investment in new technologies to first shatter the taxi monopoly, then fortify its market share against a spirited challenge from rival start-ups, has been largely responsible.

With more competition in the space, the brakes have been applied to Uber’s popularity. At the same time, there is angst from its most precious commodity – drivers – over sub-standard pay and conditions. The problem is Uber must keep its fares, and therefore driver remuneration, low to maintain market share and prevent its losses blowing out even further.

This is what makes us eye the company’s mooted expansion into aerial transportation somewhat suspiciously. Can Uber actually afford it? Or is it another ingenious ploy to revive faith in its reputation as an innovator without peer, and thus drive up the share price?

Uber says Melbournians can expect to be graced by winged taxis as soon as 2023. The intervening years on the ground, and particularly that upon which Wall St was paved, will most likely determine whether that’s merely a flight of fancy.

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