Uber vs. meter taxis: The last of the professional drivers

Wheels24 correspondent Alex Parker attended the 2017 Geneva Motor Show earlier in March, and discovered a new modular air and ground transport system that will put meter taxis, and Uber, out of business for good.

Earlier in February, protesting truck drivers had brought traffic to a standstill as they had blocked freeways heading into Pretoria, causing huge traffic jams and affecting hundreds of motorists.

In March, metered taxis have caused a 'go-slow' bringing the R24 to a halt near Edenvale heading towards OR Tambo International Airport.

READ: Striking taxis block routes to OR Tambo - How to deal with heavy traffic

Cape Town - Chaos was inflicted onto the streets of Johannesburg earlier in March as meter taxi drivers vented their frustration at the burgeoning success of Uber, the cellphone app that connects folks with cars and people in need of a ride. 

I do have some sympathy. Until recently I worked in print journalism, so I know how it feels to have ones fortunes attached to an industry in steep decline. 

It isn’t nice.

'Endangered species'

But a “modular air and ground transport system” I saw at the Geneva motor show last week makes all of these arguments about Uber seems decidedly last-century. To cut through the guff, it’s a flying/driving drone that arrives when summoned by an app. 

Put harshly, the professional driver is an endangered species.

The simplistic cry that Uber is “stealing the jobs” of meter taxi drivers is wrong and, in the medium term, irrelevant. It is true that Uber neither owns cars nor employs drivers, so is not regulated as a taxi service. Each Uber ride is an act of free will between a person in need of a lift, and a person with a car. The app is a go-between. 

And it’s a fact of history that Uber has created an all-new market. I avoid meter taxis, and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve used them, mainly because being charged R500 to get from Sandton to OR Tambo in a wreck of a car driven badly isn’t my idea of suitable transport. 

If Uber vanished, so would big section of the market. Put simply, meter taxi folk, the problem isn’t Uber – it’s you.

And in any case, today meter taxi drivers are up in arms - tomorrow it will be Uber drivers, not only because of the imminent arrival of the autonomous car, but also because of personal transport drones.

At Geneva, Italdesign and Airbus combined to release something called the “Pop.Up”, an electric app-based personal air/ground transport drone system summoned via an app, just like Uber. It looks scarily real. 

“The feasible concept is the result of Italdesign and Airbus’s joint reflection on how to address the mobility challenges of megacities achievable for a majority, which has become one of the most pressing issues for commuters in megacities worldwide. With traffic congestion projected to hugely increase by 2030, the companies decided to combine their engineering expertise to tackle how to best achieve a sustainable, modular and multimodal urban mobility system,” says the press release. 

The Pop.Up is an autonomous electric car when traffic is flowing. The capsule in which the passenger sits can, if traffic is bad, detach from the ground module, and be collected by self-piloting, 4.4-metre air-module, which picks up the capsule and delivers it – and the occupants – to the destination. 

Mathias Thomsen, general manager for Urban Air Mobility at Airbus at the unveil in Geneva, said: "Adding the third dimension to seamless multi-modal transportation networks will without a doubt improve the way we live and how we get from A to B.

"Successfully designing and implementing solutions that will work both in the air and on the ground requires a joint reflection on the part of both aerospace and automotive sectors, alongside collaboration with local government bodies for infrastructure and regulatory frameworks. Italdesign, with its long track record of exceptional vehicle design was an exciting partner for Airbus for this unique concept project."

The Uber driver disrupted the meter taxi driver. The Uber driver is next. What this means for employment, of course, is for society to handle.


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