Ola, an Indian Uber rival backed by SoftBank, prepares London launch

Ola cab drivers talk with each other as they wait for passengers by a roadside in Amritsar.

NARINDER NANU | AFP | Getty Images

Indian ride-sharing firm Ola says it has started registering drivers in London as it prepares to launch in the U.K. capital.

The company, which is backed by Uber investor SoftBank, said it would look to launch its services in the city “in the coming weeks.” The announcement comes just a day after Uber was stripped of its London license by the local transport regulator.

A source, who preferred to remain anonymous due to the information not yet being public, told CNBC that Ola may look to soft launch in London next month, with a full roll out due in mid-January 2020.

Ola received its own permit to operate in London earlier this year, a sign of increased competition for U.S. ride-sharing giant Uber. London is Uber’s largest European market, where it counts 45,000 drivers and 3.5 million passengers. It’s also a key driver of the firm’s revenues beyond America.

Transport for London (TfL) on Monday said it would not renew Uber’s license to operate in the city after finding the company allowed unauthorized drivers to pick up passengers by uploading their photos to other Uber driver accounts. The regulator claims this occurred in at least 14,000 journeys.

Uber said it will appeal the decision, meaning users in London will still be able to use the app while a magistrate assesses whether the firm is fit to continue offering its services there. It’s not the first time TfL decided not to renew Uber’s license, and the last time that happened it took nine months before a judge granted it a new permit.

The company is already faced with a wave of rivals in London. Estonia’s Bolt, France’s Kapten and Israel’s Gett are just a few of the challengers operating in the city. The company had a big impact on the local black cab industry with its slick app and significantly lower fares.

In its announcement Tuesday, Ola touted its safety features as a key differentiator from other competitors. The company says it uses facial recognition technology to authenticate its drivers. A key factor behind TfL’s decision to ban Uber was its failure to ensure passenger safety.

“We have built a robust mobility platform for London which is fully compliant with TfL’s high standards,” Simon Smith, Ola’s head of international, said in a statement Tuesday.

“We have had constructive conversations with the authorities, drivers, and local communities in London over the past months, and look forward to contributing towards solving mobility issues in innovative and meaningful ways.”

The company is already live in eight cities across the U.K., including Birmingham, Liverpool and Exeter. Beyond Britain and India, Ola says its services are also available in multiple cities in Australia and New Zealand.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said in the past that he was not worried about some of the new entrants in London. “So far we’re not seeing anything in London that’s a surprise or unexpected that we’re not seeing in, you know, 20 other cities around the world,” the ride-hailing firm’s boss said in the summer.