One day after Uber Technologies Inc.'s future in London was cast in doubt, rival Ola said it had started signing up drivers in London on Tuesday and will start service in the city within weeks. Ola had been expected to begin its London business before the end of the year, but the company now expects a January launch, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter who didn't want to be named discussing private plans. The Indian ride-hailing company, backed by SoftBank Group, said it already served "millions" of customers in other UK cities since its rollout last year, including Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol.
The company held "constructive conversations" with local authorities and would be "fully compliant" with rules set by transit authority Transport for London, Simon Smith, Ola's international head, said in a statement Tuesday.
Market leader Uber was banned from London on Monday by TfL over concerns about customer safety, after its app was shown to be vulnerable to drivers faking their identities. The company said it will appeal, but the decision gave competitors an opportunity to muscle in on the negative attention.
In its statement, Ola said it would launch in London with driver facial recognition technology and systems to "eliminate misrepresentation." Uber said Monday it would also bring a facial recognition system to London, but didn't say when. Ola, owned by ANI Technologies Pvt, is also Uber's biggest rival in India.
The company won't be short of competition for riders in the lucrative UK market. Daimler AG-backed Bolt, formerly known as Taxify, relaunched in London in June around the same time French private-hire limousine operator Kapten started service in the British capital. Rival Wheely relocated its headquarters from Moscow to London earlier in the year.
Still, Ola should be Uber's biggest concern, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley. If reports are accurate, Bolt has only raised around $190 million to $280 million in funding so far, compared with the $3.8 billion Ola is said to have racked up, analysts led by Brian Nowak said in June.
"We believe Ola is arguably a greater threat if media reports of Ola's entry into London at the end of the year prove accurate," the analysts said at the time.
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