Indian taxi-hailing start-up Ola cabs is expanding its footprint into the UK with plans of launching soon into Liverpool, Reading and Birmingham and slated to debut into London's saturated taxi-market by the end of this year.
The start-up which first rolled out in South Wales in August 2018 in a major competition to Uber has roughly 45 licenses today across about 20 cities and is operational in major tourist hubs- Cardiff, Bristol, Exeter and Bath. It recently received a private hire operator’s licence by the Luton council’s licensing sub-committee to operate. The company plans to provide executive services in six to eight months to and from London-Luton Airport, according to the licensing sub-committee.
“The acquisition of licenses in London is very hard as there are 30 boroughs with each of them having different laws and application processes which can be extremely time-consuming that can vary from a few days to few months,” said Ben Legg, Managing Director Ola, UK.
Currently, Ola only operates in two countries- India and Australia, and the UK will be its third market. Operating four different kinds of cab services today, it is the only app that can be used by black cabs and Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs) and the company plans to introduce electric cars in future as well among its other expansion plans.
“Ideally I would also love to offer something for just women customers but there aren't enough licensed women drivers with us today. I think we have only 4-5% women drivers in the UK with a pre-approved license,” Ben explains.
The UK's taxi market appears pretty saturated from private hire cabs to licensed taxis with Uber, Gett, Dragon among others. Aside from ride-hailing services there are other avenues of food delivery and weekend getaways that existing companies already have their market share in. Amidst such heavy competition, how does Ola plan to capture the market?
“We are looking at how people are getting to airports or how parents are dropping their kids to school because those areas are sub-optimal. But we are also keen on exploring the services available for airport staff to ensure that they safely reach their homes especially after working odd hours,” Legg divulged.
At a time when drug peddling, gang culture, knife crime and associated notorious activities have strangled the country's safe working atmosphere, many ride hailing services including Uber have struggled with ensuring passenger safety. And Legg, believes that the onus of such heinous crimes often falls on the “company's lax rules” with respect to proper background checks that must be done before hiring the driver.
“There are roughly only 30-40% drivers who are white British born in the UK and the rest are first and second generation immigrants. The biggest group would be South Asians from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh followed by Eastern Europeans and aside from running proper background checks we also meet these drivers in person before bringing them on board with us to ensure that safety of our passengers, which is our biggest priority, is in place,” Legg explained.
Ola was founded in 2011 in India by Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhati and has close to 125 million customers.