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

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Sao Paulo, Brazil - 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 and the pas­sen­ger’s weight.

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 12mn res­i­dents within its mu­nic­i­pal lim­its and mil­lions more in satel­lite towns - is reg­u­larly choked by gar­gan­tuan traf­fic jams.

There are 5.9mn ve­hi­cles, or one for every two peo­ple. At peak hour, traf­fic can be backed up as much as 576km.

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 neigh­bour­hood of Itaim Bibi to the air­port some 30km away, takes nine min­utes and costs US$150.

Com­pare that with the mar­ket rates be­fore Voom be­came avail- able. In­di­vid­ual he­li­copter com­pa­nies wanted ten 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 US$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 ten hours a week’ stuck in traf­fic.

Big­gest fleet

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 45mn, 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 trav­ellers 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.

(AFP)

Brazil­ian busi­ness­man Gus­tavo Boyde pre­pares to board a he­li­copter taxi in Sao Paulo, Brazil on June 23

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