July 2, 2019

Opinion: Uber's air taxi vision isn't amazing, it's dystopian

By Michael Kaine, June 12 2019

It’s meant to showcase just how amazing “air taxis” are but look closer and Uber Elevate’s video advert will terrify you.

A woman takes the lift inside a shiny high-rise building up to an “Uber Skyport” where she hops on a drone-like helicopter with three other passengers. She quickly gets transported to her suburban home, naturally grabbing a rideshare car to make the final connection to her front door. It’s all soft lighting and easy smiles. But during the flight you’ll notice her looking down over the city at gridlocked traffic on congested streets. It’s a vision of the future where the wealthy literally get to look down on those less privileged, who have to slug it out on choked, under-funded infrastructure (because companies like Uber don’t pay much tax to allow for road-building).

I’m sure Uber from its Silicon Valley bubble sees no reason why anyone would have a problem with this dystopian world, because that’s how it views progress. Some win, some lose.

Uber has always operated this way: it has zero regard for ethics, standards, laws or regulations. This is why we should all be worried about the announcement by the company yesterday that Melbourne will be one of just three cities which will first trial Uber Elevate from 2023.

I doubt the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Melbourne Airport, the Victorian state government or the federal government have been contacted about these plans. That’s just not how Uber rolls.

With its rideshare service, the company has bullied its way into cities around the world, spending millions on political lobbying. It has set up shop illegally, blocked investigators looking into its operations and has even stolen private data to lure drivers to work for it. It has broken labour laws by intentionally structuring its business to deny workers their rights. Now an army of rideshare drivers and food delivery riders struggle on below minimum rates and appalling conditions, including the threat of getting “deactivated” at any moment, without warning or the right to appeal.

The decision by the Fair Work Ombudsman last Friday not to take action against Uber over labour standards was disappointing and it follows years of shameful inaction by the federal government. Scott Morrison must decide if his legacy will be backing in the billion-dollar behemoth or standing up for the principles of fairness which have made Australia great.

Not all jurisdictions are as shy: a British employment tribunal declared Uber drivers are indeed workers; New York city council has set minimum rates for rideshare drivers.

There is no reason to believe that Uber’s move into aviation would be any different to how it has operated its other business ventures. The sad distinction is there are no second chances when things go wrong thousands of metres up in the air.

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