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- After years of back-and-forth with regulators, Uber could be kicked out of London by the end of 2020.
- The UK capital’s transport regulator blasted Uber on safety, saying 14,000 fraudulent rides took place where drivers hadn’t uploaded accurate photos to their profiles.
- Business Insider asked competitors Kapten, Bolt, Ola and Xooox how they planned to avoid the same fate as Uber in the city.
- Ola, the Indian ride-hailing app, announced on Friday it would launch in London this month.
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After a troubled few years battling transport authorities, Uber looks set to lose its license in London at some point in the next 12 months.
In November, London’s transport regulator Transport for London (TfL) refused to renew the ride-hailing firm’s license, highlighting a “pattern of failures” on safety and security. In some 14,000 cases, it said, Uber drivers had completed trips using an incorrect profile picture.
What happens if Uber leaves London?
Appealing the decision has kept Uber on the road for now, with an as-yet-to-be-determined court date set to resolve the matter once and for all – but when and if Uber is kicked out of London, what happens next?
Today, the Silicon Valley startup still dominates the London market, with around 45,000 drivers and millions of users. But competitors have been mobilizing, both to ensure they’re best placed to lure new drivers onto their platform and to scoop up Uber’s customer base.
Competitors capitalized on Uber’s troubles. French competitor Kapten, which launched in London in 2019, said in a statement: “London needs ride-hailing, but doesn’t need Uber.” It added: “We believe it is the duty of a responsible ride-hailing operator to work cooperatively with regulators.”
Around the same time another opponent, Bolt, sent its customers an email, claiming news of Uber’s woes had brought in “thousands of new sign-ups already”.
Catty putdowns aside, it’s clear the ride-hailing firms are eyeing the potential gap in the market. But with that opportunity comes risk: On the surface, none of these companies offer a discernibly different service to Uber, and will be subject to the same regulatory pressures.
Business Insider asked four of the best-known ride-hailing startups in London how they plan to avoid the troubles that have plagued Uber.
(Disclaimer: All figures below apply to London only.)
Bolt (formerly Taxify)
Passengers: More than 1.5 million
Since launching in in Estonia in 2013, Bolt has grown considerably – now operating in 35 countries across five continents.
Previously known as Taxify, the firm suffered a botched launch in 2017, and spent two years negotiating with TfL before relaunching last year.
Speaking to Business Insider, the firm insisted it had developed a “great relationship” with the regulator, saying it had actively engaged in discussions around safety and compliance.
“Recent events highlight the critical importance to public safety of not just checking but knowing who the drivers are that use our platform,” a spokesman said.
“All our drivers undergo background checks and driver training before being allowed onto the platform… As Bolt takes driver identity fraud extremely seriously, we continue to pay the utmost attention to driver credentials and notify TfL of any instances where we believe fraud is taking place.”
The firm also said it manually cross-references driver photos with both their driving and private hire licenses.
“For our customers’ peace of mind, the Bolt app includes trust-building features that reveal the driver’s photo, name, vehicle type, vehicle registration, and rating, so passengers know who they are getting in the car with.
“We also have triggers in our system to automatically block drivers whose documents have expired.”
Founded in France in 2011, the firm previously known as Chauffeur-Privé changed its name to Kapten just last year. One of the leading ride-hailing players in its home country, it has since expanded to 15 countries throughout Europe.
Speaking to Business Insider, Mariusz Zabrocki, the firm’s London general manager, said Kapten had built a “very good relationship” with TfL ahead of its launch in the UK.
“If you look at Bolt, you see how it took them around two years after their first try to get back on the roads here,” he said. “But we were done in about eight months.”
Zabrocki added that Kapten is the only ride-hailing firm in London that verifies its drivers face-to-face, at its registration center in the city’s Old Street financial district. He said all of the firm’s drivers are subject to extensive background checks.
“If there are any serious offenses on your record, you’re out.”
He added: “Thankfully, no serious crime has taken place involving any Kapten ride in London to date… But we will of course inform TfL and the police in such an event.”
Passengers: Yet to launch in London.
On Friday, Ola announced it would be launching in London on February 10.
The Indian tech firm – valued at around $10 billion – said it had “taken time to ensure we have a strategy” to compete in the city.
Internationally, Ola has faced criticism over apparent discrepancies in both the charges levied against customers and diminishing incentives for drivers.
In a clear attempt to lure drivers away from other platforms, the firm said it wouldn’t take any commission from rides for the first six weeks.
This is no doubt why around 20,000 drivers have already signed up to the platform since it began onboarding a month ago.
Speaking to Business Insider, Simon Smith, the firm’s head of international, said Ola wanted to “lead the industry on safety”, offering a 24/7 helpline and an in-app emergency button for both customers and drivers.
“At Ola, we always look to operate responsibly and do the right thing; this is the Ola way, and we apply this mantra globally, wherever we launch,” he said.
“We will look to bring our other flagship global safety features to the UK.”
Smith added: “As for regulators, we have never launched in a market without first gaining the approvals we need.”
Launched early last year, Xooox (pronounced “zooks”) is an alternative app for already- licensed private hire drivers, which promises to “put them first”.
Unlike other apps, Xooox gives drivers the ability to set their own prices, and allows passengers to pick the best option for them based on differences between rides in the vehicle on offer, ETA and cost.
As the app draws on data provided by local councils across the UK, it has made it easier for the authorities to detect when drivers have been banned in a different district, according to founder and CEO Darren Tenney.
“We also give passengers an in-app button they can use to log any kind of incident,” he said. “So the moment you hit that, we are looking at everything – the time and place, the vehicle, the driver.”
Axel Springer, Insider Inc.’s parent company, is an investor in Uber.