Uber cars to map Auckland to find the best pick-up spots
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Ride-sharing service Uber plans to map every nook and cranny of Auckland when it releases a fleet of vehicles mounted with 360-degree cameras this month.
The first of the cars hit the road today and will start collecting imagery that will then be analysed to find the city's best pick-up and drop-off spots.
From Uber's headquarters in San Francisco, Uber's head of product maps Manik Gupta said half a dozen of the cars would be used initially, but that would eventually increase to "a few dozen".
"One of the biggest challenges we have is around finding suitable pick-up and drop-off locations. This might seem fairly straightforward but it's not.
"You have to - in real time - match the rider with the driver and you have to get the location quite precise or they can miss each other," he said.
The street imagery would also help to identify the best routes for riders and drivers.
"By collecting street-level imagery we'll have a better understanding of the environment," Gupta said.
"Say you have a building in downtown, which occupies a whole block. With this street-level imagery we'll be able to determine exactly the best place to go."
The data would not be made available to the public and an Uber spokesman said the Privacy Commissioner had been notified of the project.
The mapping project will also help lay the foundations for Uber's next big initiative: Uber Pool, which will allow people travelling in roughly the direction to share an Uber vehicle.
The spokesman said this would be launched in Auckland "as soon as possible".
As Uber's prominence in New Zealand continues to grow, the company has also teamed up with Auckland Transport to allow people to incorporate Uber into their public transport journeys.
Using Auckland Transport's online journey planner, commuters can now use public transport timetables to synchronise Uber rides with bus, train and ferry connections.
The service is also available for taxis.
An Auckland Transport (AT) spokesman said the organisation had recognised that some people didn't use public transport because of the commute to the station or bus stop.
"One of the difficulties that people have using public transport is the first and last legs - getting to public transport and then getting to your final destination. This was about filling that short-trip gap," he said.
"There's no commercial arrangement as such, we're just providing transport choices for people."
Despite such collaboration with AT, Uber remains problematic for the Government.
A spokesman for Transport Minister Simon Bridges said driver checks were far less rigorous than those done by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) before it permits drivers to carry passengers for hire or reward.
"The Transport Agency has consistently advised prospective Uber drivers and the public of these concerns, and they have encouraged anyone with concerns or complaints about potentially illegal services to contact the agency."
NZTA had been warning prospective Uber drivers to ensure they understood the legal requirements of providing passenger services in New Zealand.
"[Uber drivers need to understand] the consequences of operating illegally, including potential impacts on vehicle financing and insurance," the agency said.
The agency did not specifically answer the Herald's question: Is Uber legal?