Uber, revolutionising transport planning across Melbourne and the world

    Uber, has been in operation in Melbourne for only 6 months, but is fast becoming one of the most popular transport methods for navigating the inner city.

    Its rapid expansion is testament to the quality of the service, which allows customers to request an “Uber” through its phone app, and for “Uber Drivers” to respond instantaneously to their requests.

    Uber started in San Francisco in 2009 and has expanded to over 120 cities in 38 countries across the globe.

    This revolution in transport has only become possible with the advent of smart technology, embedded in all our phones, that allows GPS tracking and secure payment features. No more cash, this is all done remotely, and promotes safety for the driver and passenger. There’s no argument over fares here.

    The system works through using the proximity of the customer to the closest driver. It gives the closest driver 15 seconds to pick up the ride, before it dispatches to the next driver. This ensures the the customer will have a Uber before you can say ‘hop, skip and a jump’.

    One of the innovative measures that ensures a pick up (and unlike choosy taxi drivers refusing fairs illegally I might have you), is that the Uber Driver doesn’t know where you’re going until they pick you up. Which helps if you want to go to the shops when its only a 5 minute ride, but a 20 minute walk, or get picked up with your groceries on the way home.

    Another interesting feature is that Uber offers is “surge” capacity. When a surge is detected in the system (well, I mean the city), such as at a sporting event, concert or carnival, there is ability to up the fairs marginally, this entices more Uber drivers into work to meet the demand.

    Now there have been lots of naysayers about the system, with calls from the Taxi industry about the safety of the customers, the training of the drivers and the upkeep of vehicles. Nevertheless the public isn’t buying this negativity from the Taxi lobby, and are embracing this revolution in transport. It is more likely you will have more experienced drivers, use to their own vehicle, and more likely to ensure its appropriate servicing given the customer feedback requirement after each drop off.

    But I hear you say, what does this mean for transport planning in Melbourne? Well I’m glad you asked.

    Uber is to the Taxi industry what the railway line was to Cobb & Co. A more reliable and efficient mode of transport, plain and simple. If the taxi industry doesn’t pick up their game and embrace the revolution, the only yellow cars you will be seeing in Melbourne will be Lamborghinis down Lygon Street.

    Since the introduction of Uber in New York three years ago, thirty percent of the taxi industry has ditched their medallions (taxi permits), and now are working through the Uber system. Recent protests against Uber in Britain and across Europe by the taxi industry won’t stop the change. Uber currently has a market capitalisation of over $18 billion and growing. Money talks…and it should be expected that Uber will fight to retain and grow their market share.

    The positive for transport planning is that Uber is filling a much needed gap in the transport sector, one that can’t be met by personal vehicle travel or public transport. The competitive fares, and the rapid response time, enable efficiency in the transport system, and improve the economic potential of the city. Less down time for waiting for no show cabs, or late trains, means better efficiency in the market, and less stress and concern for all around.

    As the system grows people living in less transport rich suburbs will now have an alternative to a taxi. Unfortunately it will take a free market approach like Uber to fill the transport gap that is developing in Melbourne. Uber might be the white knight for the transport have-nots, who are so desperately seeking. It also gives communities an ability to meet their own needs through the good old supply and demand method. No doubt to meet growing demand, Uber will be rolled out across rural areas and country towns, where no public transport is provided.

    According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are over 13 million passenger cars registered in Australia. That means there’s a lot of transport potential locked up in our garages, streets, and workplaces doing nothing productive. With over 8% of  Australian households not owning a car, there is a strong customer base to be had. Furthermore with the nation being one of the world’s top owners of smart phones per capita, the growth for Uber can only be a rapid one.

    This new transport concept will continue to give people greater choice, through its fast and reliable service.

    Society has gone through many revolutions, and Uber has taken the best from them. The car, the smart phone, and the freedom to choose for ourselves. It has smashed them together and given us reliable transport freedom.

    Written by:
    Adam Parker is a futurist and the Director of Town Planning Group, a Melbourne based town planning consultancy. Adam has a keen interest and knowledge in strategic land use, transport planning and economics.