Indian ride-hailing company Ola has been refused a licence to continue operating in London over “passenger safety” failings by the British capital’s transport authority, a decision the company said would appeal.
The Bengaluru-headquartered company, which had launched its services in London in February, has 21 days to appeal against the decision of Transport for London (TfL) and can continue to operate in the interim.
Helen Chapman, TfL’s director of licensing, regulation and charging said: “Through our investigations, we discovered that flaws in Ola’s operating model have led to the use of unlicensed drivers and vehicles in more than 1,000 passenger trips, which may have put passenger safety at risk.
“If they do appeal, Ola can continue to operate and drivers can continue to undertake bookings on behalf of Ola. We will closely scrutinise the company to ensure passengers safety is not compromised”.
The company is also accused by TfL of a failure to draw attention to concerns as they were identified.
Ola’s UK chief has confirmed that the company will be appealing against the decision, saying it has been working with the transport authority through its review period in order to address any issues.
“At Ola, our core principle is to work closely, collaboratively and transparently with regulators such as TfL. We have been working with TfL during the review period and have sought to provide assurances and address the issues raised in an open and transparent manner,” said Marc Rozendal, Managing Director, Ola UK.
“Ola will take the opportunity to appeal this decision and in doing so, our riders and drivers can rest assured that we will continue to operate as normal, providing safe and reliable mobility for London,” he said.
“We have been working with TfL during the review period and have sought to provide assurances and address the issues raised in an open and transparent manner,” Rozendal said in a statement to PTI.
According to sources, most of the issues were technical in nature and have been corrected and the same will be communicated in the appeal.
The Indian company, which is backed by Japan’s SoftBank Group, entered the UK market in 2018 starting with Wales and then south-west England.
At the time of its launch in London in February, it had unveiled partnerships aimed at high driver standards, as it teamed up with DriveTech, part of the British motoring association AA, Mercer and Pearson to offer Ola riders in London the “highest standard of driving skills, and driver customer service and communication”.
“Ola is raising the standards of safety in the UK ride-hailing industry and bringing global best practice to the market.
“In a number of pioneering moves for the UK, Ola is launching its flagship global safety feature ‘Guardian’ which uses AI and machine learning to automatically detect irregular vehicle activity, a ‘Start Code’ feature to ensure customers and drivers are correctly matched, 24/7 voice support for riders and drivers, and a cap of six penalty points for drivers on its platform,” the company said in its statement at the time.
The TfL decision to deny its licence comes a week after American taxi ride-hailing company Uber won a legal battle to continue operating in London.
The Ola rival was granted a new licence nearly a year after TfL rejected its application, also over safety concerns around unlicensed drivers.
The timing is also critical given that ride-hailing services were adversely impacted by the COVID-19-induced lockdowns in various parts of the world. As businesses gradually return to normalcy, players like Uber and Ola are focussing their efforts on ensuring health and safety of driver-partners and passengers during rides.
Ola – which competes against Uber in markets like India and the UK – had made its international debut in Perth, Australia. Since then, it has expanded to New Zealand and the UK. It has a presence in about 250 cities globally.
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