SoftBank-backed Ola expects to begin London operations in January

Leveraging on TfL's ban on Uber, Ola has begun signing up drivers this week to launch its service

Bloomberg Best of the Year 2019: The window of a Gap Inc. fashion store reflects the British Union flag, also known as a Union Jack, signage of a tourist gift store in London, U.K, on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. Photographer: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

One day after Uber Technologies' future in London was cast in doubt, rival Ola said it had started signing up drivers in London on November 26 and will its start service in the city within weeks.

Ola had been expected to begin its London business before the end of the year, but the company now expects a January launch, according to a source.

The Indian ride-hailing company, backed by SoftBank Group, said it already served “millions” of customers in other UK cities since its rollout last year, including Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol.

The company held “constructive conversations” with local authorities and would be “fully compliant” with rules set by transit authority Transport for London, Simon Smith, Ola’s international head, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Market leader Uber was banned from London on Monday by TfL over concerns about customer safety, after its app was shown to be vulnerable to drivers faking their identities. The company said it will appeal, but the decision gave competitors an opportunity to muscle in on the negative attention.

In its statement, Ola said it would launch in London with driver facial recognition technology and systems to “eliminate misrepresentation”. Uber said on Monday it would also bring a facial recognition system to London, but didn’t say when. Ola, owned by ANI Technologies, is Uber’s biggest rival in India.

The company won’t be short of competition for riders in the lucrative UK market. Daimler-backed Bolt, formerly known as Taxify, relaunched in London in June around the same time French private-hire limousine operator Kapten started service in the British capital. Another competitor, Wheely relocated its headquarters from Moscow to London earlier this year.

Still, Ola should be Uber’s biggest concern, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley. If reports are accurate, Bolt has only raised around $190 million to $280 million in funding so far, compared with the $3.8 billion Ola is said to have racked up, analysts led by Brian Nowak said in June.

“We believe Ola is arguably a greater threat if media reports of Ola’s entry into London at the end of the year prove accurate,” the analysts said at the time.