The traffic in New York is legendary. The city that never sleeps could well be known as ‘the city that never stops driving’, having been named in recent years as the 3rd most congested city in the world. The level of traffic blocking up The Big Apple means that a car journey from Wall Street to JFK airport can take an hour, despite only being a distance of 26 miles. In addition, that journey is slower than taking a bike to the airport, which clocks in at 10 minutes faster and 10 miles shorter. With traffic that bad, it’s easy to see why people have started looking for alternatives to road travel.
In steps freelance taxi firm Uber, set up in 2009 to offer a more flexible alternative to hailing a taxi cab. The firm recently announced Uber Copter, a helicopter service designed to offer customers a drastic way of avoiding traffic jams, letting them take to the skies instead. The service will run from the heliport near Wall Street in downtown Manhattan, to JFK airport in Queens. The service, available to Uber Reward Platinum and Uber Diamond customers, will take approximately 8 minutes, offering an immense drop in travel time to the airport. The copter ride does, however, come with a fairly steep ticket price, costing $220-$225 just for a one-way trip.
Although Uber Copter will, without a doubt, cut journey times to JFK, it has been heavily criticized as an unnecessary and ill-advised venture. The service has been lambasted as an environmental concern, given the higher rate of emissions resulting from a helicopter journey compared to one taken by car. Critics have pointed out that engaging in such an emissions-heavy process that can only ever cater to a wealthy few is extremely irresponsible, given the need to move toward cleaner methods of transport and ways of living. In addition, the safety risks of flying a helicopter in a built up city are said to be a major concern, as well as its impact on noise pollution.
This criticism probably wasn’t what Uber was hoping for when it announced its helicopter service, presumably in an attempt to stymie the fall in value the company has experienced. Despite its majority hold on the transportation market, Uber has taken something of a knock recently. After becoming a publicly-traded company, the taxi giant revealed losses of 11% on its share value within the first day, the biggest one-day loss in U.S. history. In addition, it reported a $5 billion loss in the second financial quarter of 2019 alone, prompting 400 layoffs across the company.
The company has diversified into several different services, in an attempt to corner multiple markets and boost overall profits. The most successful of these was Uber Eats, a food delivery service established in 2014. When it comes to food delivery, Uber Eats is estimated to possess a market share of 25%, and recently announced that it will be trialling delivery via drone. The company also acquired bike sharing service Jump in 2018, and boat-sharing service Uber Boat.
It’s difficult to say how Uber Copter will perform, and how long it will ultimately last. The company has faced serious backlash from advocacy groups for its decision, and will have to compete for relatively sparse custom with pre-existing helicopter services. Nonetheless, despite the criticisms, it’s likely that the company will continue to run the service so long as people are willing to pay the fare, which seems a likely prospect in an area as built-up as New York.