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SoftBank and Tencent-backed Ola begins its ride in London

This comes at a time when Uber is fighting to operate its taxi services in the UK’s capital.

Photo by Hat Creative on Unsplash

SoftBank and Tencent-backed Indian ride-hailing giant Ola started its operations in London on Monday with more than 25,000 registered drivers. Ola will be at an advantage as the American ride-hailing giant Uber is on the back foot after it lost its license in the city in November last year.

“It is not just yet another city launch for us. It is a transformative event for all of us at Ola,” Bhavish Aggarwal, co-founder and CEO of Ola told employees in an email, local media Economic Times reported.

London is the 28th city where Ola has commenced operations in the United Kingdom (UK). Ola started its global expansion in March 2018 with Australia and entered the UK market in August 2019 by rolling out its services in Cardiff and South Wales.

Later in September 2019, it forayed into New Zealand. Since then, the Bengaluru-based mobility startup has been strengthening its foothold in its three international markets, while fighting a fierce battle in the domestic market with San Francisco-headquartered rival Uber. The American ride-hailing company, which is also backed by SoftBank, is present in about 70 countries.

“London is truly the beginning of our journey to be the preeminent global force and player in our industry. Very few Indian brands have gone global with this scale and ambition and our journey and success will become a benchmark,” Aggarwal said in the email.

To date, Ola claims to have provided over three million rides in the UK, with more than 11,000 drivers.

Last year in July, Ola received a 15-month license to operate in London. Four months later, in November 2019, Uber lost its license to operate in the capital of the UK, when local taxi regulator Transport for London (TfL) decided to ban the ride-hailing company again over the “pattern of regulatory breaches” which made it “unfit to operate in London.”

This is not the first time Uber has lost its operating license in London. In September 2017, TfL had canceled its license to ply on the London roads. Uber then made an appeal and received a probationary 15-month license, which was extended for two months in September 2019, only to be discontinued later in November. Uber has appealed again while continuing its operations during the appeal process.

London is a critical market for Uber. According to a Quartz report, in its IPO filing last year, the company said London was one of five cities that accounted for 24% of its global ride-hail bookings in 2018. In the same filing, it said “any inability to operate in London, as well as the publicity concerning any such termination or non-renewal, would adversely affect our business, revenue, and operating results.”

As Uber struggles to get the regulatory approval, Ola, on the other hand, has rolled its service after a good six-month preparation.

The company said in a statement that as an inaugural offer, Ola drivers will retain 100% of their earnings for the first six weeks, while Ola’s passengers will also receive £25 (USD 32) worth of ride credit for signing up in the first week after the launch. Local media, Mint said, the company has rolled out its services with various safety features, such as ‘Guardian’, which can detect any irregular trip activity, including prolonged stops, unexpected route deviations, and ‘Start code’, a unique four-digit passcode that a passenger receives after booking a ride that is needed to start the trip—similar to the security feature it has in India.

Ola’s license is valid until October 3 this year.