Author(s): Martin Garner
Last week, India's largest ride-hailing service Ola received approval from Transport for London (TfL), London's transport regulator, to offer private hire vehicles in the city. Ola was awarded a one-year carriage licence to operate in London, where drivers need to apply for a licence and list their fleet as privately registered vehicles for hire.
TfL tends to be a strict custodian when it comes to issuing licences to taxi companies and enforcing the operating rules. In 2017 it decided not to renew Uber's licence, forcing the company to make significant changes to its operating practices before reinstating it. In light of this, it's a feather in the cap for Ola to receive a permit from TfL as it continues to widen its international operation after years of building out its service in India.
Ola expects to kick off its services in London in September 2019. The ride-hailing company first entered the UK market in August 2018 with licences to operate in south Wales, including Cardiff, Newport and Vale of Glamorgan (see Ride-Hailing Company Looks for a Gateway to Europe).
Founded in 2010, Ola has a presence in 150 cities in India and, in addition to the UK, also operates in Australia and New Zealand. It has 150 million users and provides about 1 billion rides annually.
London is one of the world's largest markets for ride-hailing services, but also one of the most competitive. Ola will go up against established rivals as well as a series of start-ups. Names include Uber, Daimler-backed Bolt (which also had a run-in with regulator TfL in its former guise as Taxify), BMW-backed Kapten and many smaller minicab businesses that have built up networks of drivers.
But Ola, thanks to financial supporters including SoftBank, Sequoia, Accel and car-makers Kia and Hyundai, is in a strong position to challenge the top players. It has a war chest of $3.8 billion, cash it will need in order to establish itself in London and for further expansion. Ola is following in Uber's global footprint and plans to launch in more large cities around the globe, each with its own challenges. The move into England's capital is a big opportunity, but, as Uber will attest to, London will prove to be a tough market.