Another Ride-Hail Shark Smells Uber’s London Blood

Smelling blood-in-the-water, app-driven ride-hailing company Ola is launching its service in the UK capital as Uber flounders under the threat of losing its licence.

Despite Uber still plying its trade in London pending an appeal against the local transport authority’s rejection of renewal of its taxi licence, the Indian ride-hailing firm has spotted an opportunity to expand. Crucially, Ola is promising a much more robust vetting procedure of its drivers, the lack of which has seen 14,000 London journeys by fraudulent drivers taken in Uber run taxis last year.

For, as anyone riding motorcycles or bicycles in the city will relate, there are innumerable instances of poor, inconsiderate and even down right dangerous driving by Uber taxis which now overtake boy-racer skip-lorry drivers as the biggest threat to urbanites’ health and welfare.

From my own experience as a committed biker and cyclist, the vast bulk of my daily near-death experiences are at the hands of Uber drivers. One recently even admitted he had never read the UK’s Highway Code, a comprehensive knowledge of which is a requirement to pass the country’s driving test.

Now Ola is entering the increasingly crowded ride-hailing market in London and one that sees Uber as the biggest player with 45,000 drivers as against 35,000 for its closest rival, Bolt. Ola has recruited 25,000 drivers in London, while another contender, Kapten, has 20,000.

However, the peace-of-mind pledge by Ola’s head of international, Simon Smith, could be one of the service’s key attractions. Speaking to the BBC, he said the company has announced a raft of safety features, including one that traces a driver’s route and flags up any “irregular vehicle activity”. The app also has a “panic button” for users if anything goes wrong.

The company has been operating in Cardiff since 2018 and sees promising growth potential in London. Smith added: “We are confident that we can become the market leader in London within a year. It’s in our DNA to always follow the law, whether that’s in Birmingham, Brisbane or Bangalore. The only limit on the pace of our expansion in the UK is how quickly we can get the relevant licences.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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