Indian ridesharing firm Ola expands into London

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On Sunday, CNBC reported Indian digital taxi startup Ola would launch in London on February 10. The 9-year-old firm is based in Mumbai and has an operator network that exceeds 1.5 million worldwide. In addition to the U.K., the firm also serves Australia and New Zealand. The company expanded into Britain last March and has signed up more than 25,000 drivers ahead of its deployment in the English capital.

While Ola is Expanding Into London

Like any clever startup, Ola is launching in London to take advantage of a market opportunity. In November, one of the world’s largest rideshare providers lost its license to operate in the city. As such, the region’s 4 million residents faced the prospect of losing the services of over 45,000 taxi drivers.

In 2018, the British capital hosted 108,900 licensed cab and private hire vehicles.

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Ola now seeks to fill the gap left by its competitor. In addition to signing up thousands of drivers, the firm is offering an incentive to appeal to new operators. The transportation service will not claim a commission for any ride during its first six weeks in the London market.

The firm has also taken steps to appeal to locals. London passengers that sign up for service this week will receive a £25 ($32.24) voucher.

The Indian-based technology startup is also working to avoid the conflicts that waylaid its rivals.

Ola’s Safety Features

In the last few years, English authorities have taken issue with rideshare companies over safety concerns. In particular, Transport for London suspended the license of one major provider because it didn’t perform required driver background checks and failed to report criminal incidents involving their fleets.

Last year, Transport for London found independent contractor drivers gave 15,000 rides using falsified credentials.

Conversely, Ola has recently tried to distinguish itself as the safety first rideshare company. As an example, the firm utilizes a PIN system to ensure passengers only accept rides from their assigned drivers. To begin a trip, a rider has to give their vehicle operator a 4-digit code.

Furthermore, the taxi service utilizes an artificial intelligence called Guardian to track potential incidents. The system can detect when a driver adjusts their assigned course. When the program detects a deviation, it prompts the firm to contact the operator or writer to verify that nothing inappropriate is occurring.

The startup’s app also includes an emergency feature that will contact Ola, the police, and the passenger’s family if triggered.

Ola is now working with motoring association AA, consultant group Mercer, and education company Pearson to better vet its drivers. Together, the three organizations will assess operators’ customer service skills, English language proficiency, and risk factor.

Because of its focus on passenger safety and recruitment efforts, Ola has already found success in England. The firm experienced a 60 percent rise in bookings in the city of Birmingham in the last three months of 2019. In the same timeframe, the company also doubled its reservations in Exeter and Reading. Now, the startup has set its sights on the British capital.

Simon Smith, Ola’s head of international, told CNBC, “We aspire to be the market leader in London.”

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