Want to es­cape Sao Paulo’s traf­fic? Take a fly­ing taxi

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

SAO PAULO: While Uber has changed ground trans­port in many cities, Sao Paulo’s in­fer­nal traf­fic jams have sparked a new app that opens the sky to com­muters: Voom, a he­li­copter taxi ser­vice that charges ac­cord­ing to dis­tance plus land­ing fees. It’s a god­send for those in a rush-but only if the weather per­mits. Gus­tavo Boyde, a Brazil­ian liv­ing in the United States who goes to Sao Paulo for busi­ness, is one of those who says the hops above the city are the only way to get around.

“I’ve opted for he­li­copters,” he said, point­ing to the me­trop­o­lis sprawl­ing be­yond the hori­zon as he chop­pered from a chic cen­tral dis­trict to the air­port. Sao Paulo-South Amer­ica’s big­gest city, home to 12 mil­lion res­i­dents within its mu­nic­i­pal lim­its and mil­lions more in satel­lite towns-is reg­u­larly choked by gar­gan­tuan traf­fic jams. There are 5.9 mil­lion ve­hi­cles, or one for ev­ery two peo­ple. At peak hour, traf­fic can be backed up as much as 576 kilo­me­ters.

Not so pricey

A new ven­ture launched in April by Europe’s Air­bus, Voom has taken a page out of Uber’s mar­ket­ing man­ual to put clients above it all-at a com­pet­i­tive price. The app asks pas­sen­gers to en­ter their weight and that of any bag­gage, then im­me­di­ately sends the cal­cu­lated fare. Boyde’s run, from the south­east­ern neigh­bor­hood of Itaim Bibi to the air­port some 30 kilo­me­ters (20 miles) away, takes nine min­utes and costs $150.

Com­pare that with the mar­ket rates be­fore Voom be­came avail­able. In­di­vid­ual he­li­copter com­pa­nies wanted 10 times more-and trips needed to be booked at least two days in ad­vance. “Our goal is to make he­li­copter trans­port ac­ces­si­ble to more peo­ple, so that the he­li­copter is seen as an al­ter­na­tive,” said Voom’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, Uma Subra­ma­nian.

In Boyde’s case, tak­ing a he­li­copter through the app was a no-brainer. Us­ing a tra­di­tional taxi on the clogged roads would have cost him $50 and an hour and a half of frus­trat­ing stop-and-go. “I chose Voom be­cause it fits within my travel bud­get, it’s eco­nom­i­cal and it’s prac­ti­cal,” Boyde said. “Those are two hours I can now use for work, which is handy given the tight sched­ule I have,” he said. Ac­cord­ing to Subra­ma­nian, sat­u­rated roads in Latin Amer­ica mean that “peo­ple lose up to 10 hours a week” stuck in traf­fic.

Sao Paulo topped a list of 500 cities Voom con­sid­ered for its de­but, for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. The city, which sits in a state of the same name whose pop­u­la­tion ex­ceeds 45 mil­lion, has the big­gest fleet of he­li­copters in the world. ANAC, the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Civil Avi­a­tion, says 700 chop­pers, or nearly a third of Brazil’s to­tal num­ber, are lo­cated there, along­side 528 he­li­pads. Brazil’s deep re­ces­sion also means that many in Sao Paulo’s avi­a­tion sec­tor have em­braced Voom.

“In the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of a con­tract­ing mar­ket, the ar­rival of this ser­vice is a pos­i­tive,” said Arthur Fio­ratti, head of the ABRAPHE as­so­ci­a­tion of Brazil­ian he­li­copter pi­lots that cov­ers some 2,000 pro­fes­sional fly­ers. Back dur­ing Brazil’s boom time, be­tween 2010 and 2013, the sec­tor flour­ished. ABRAPHE said there were 2,000 he­li­copter flights a day in Sao Paulo state. To­day, there are 1,300.

Voom has deals with three he­li­copter com­pa­nies which op­er­ate five he­li­copters in Sao Paulo’s metropoli­tan zone. Busi­ness trav­el­ers are the com­pany’s tar­get clien­tele-an elite used to tak­ing a lift to the top of a glass-and-steel tower to be picked up on the rooftop he­li­pad. But it hopes to even­tu­ally broaden the ap­peal of flit­ting across the sky by bring­ing fares down to be­low what a taxi would charge.

Eye on the weather

Cur­rently, be­tween six and 10 peo­ple use Voom’s ser­vice daily. “When my friends saw me us­ing a he­li­copter to get to the air­port they asked if I’d be­come a mil­lion­aire. When I told them how much it cost, they were sur­prised,” said Lu­cas Amadeu, the head of mar­ket­ing for a tech­nol­ogy com­pany. “I think that once peo­ple know what it costs, the ser­vice will grow a lot,” he added. But while mar­ket forces are one thing, Mother Na­ture is an­other, and the some­times vi­o­lent storms and trop­i­cal rain that lash Sao Paulo can ground Voom’s fleet. —AFP

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