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Here Come Manchester's Flying Taxis

Is it a taxi? Is it a drone? It is coming to Manchester one day soon.

Uber is moving closer to launching a flying taxi service — and Manchester had better watch out.

Speaking at the Bisnow Manchester State of the Market event, Uber Head of Northern Cities Neil McGonigle predicted the city had five or 10 years to begin creating the infrastructure necessary for electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and, ultimately, drone taxis.

“The massive challenge in the short-to-medium term is vehicle electrification and the infrastructure to support it because Manchester, like many cities, has a challenge to deliver on air pollution and air quality,” McGonigle said.

“Uber is saying we will be entirely electric or hybrid vehicles by 2022, and just electric by 2025 — but for that to work there is a major requirement for the charging infrastructure, and frankly no U.K. cities are ahead of the curve on this one.”

Uber believes the move away from petrol will mean a big shift toward car-sharing and that this in turn will mean substantial new property requirements. Forget petrol stations, think autonomous vehicle hubs.

“Autonomous vehicles will bring an even greater shift, and a move away from the concept of private ownership — mainly because of the costs [of autonomous vehicles]. And if we go in the direction of autonomous electric vehicles we’re probably looking at some kind of hub or depot-style infrastructure over the next five-10 years, as well as the charging infrastructure.”

Savills Director James Evans, Watch This Space founder Michelle Rothwell, Uber Head of Northern Cities Neil McGonigle

Uber is also working on plans to ease congestion by moving vehicles off the streets and into the air. At the recent Uber Elevate event, prototype taxis and eye-catching skyport docking centres were unveiled, and the firm made commitments to take the Uber flying taxi services out to customers in Dallas, Los Angeles and one other (as yet unnamed) city.

“The challenge from congestion means the one space available to lever congestion is all around and above us," McGonigle said. "Think part drone, part fixed wing, the technology for this is here now because battery technology has caught up sufficiently to make this feasible.

“We’re committed to the first test flights in 2020, the first services in 2023; it’s a long-term vision which may look a little bit sci-fi but we think the technology is really there.”

Fellow panelist Watch This Space founder Michelle Rothwell asked if this will mean reorienting buildings so that you can enter from the top, on the roof, as easily as the bottom, on the ground floor.

“Absolutely, we’ll have to move welcome areas,” McGonigle said.

The panel discussion on Re-imagining Manchester, moderated by Paragon Director Janes Onions, also included U+I Director James Heather, Capital & Centric Co. founder Adam Higgins and Savills Director James Evans.