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London regulator refuses to renew Ola’s operating license citing ‘public safety’

Ola has lost the license to operate in London due to public safety concerns, reported Sky News. London’s transport regulator — Transport for London (TfL) — told Ola it was not “fit or proper” to hold a private hire vehicle (PHV) license and refused to renew it. Ola had launched in the city just earlier this year in February 2020, partnering up with around 25,000 drivers.

Ola had been granted a 15-month license in July 2019, which was up for renewal by October 3, 2020. Per UK law, Ola can appeal the TfL’s decision within 21 days. The company can continue to operate pending the appeal. The company has said it will work with TfL to address the issues.

In an official statement, TfL accused a “number of failures” that had potential public safety consequences. It said there had been “historic breaches” in the licensing regime, which led to unlicensed drivers and vehicles undertaking more than 1,000 passenger trips on behalf of Ola. It said Ola did not draw its attention to the TfL’s notice after identifying them.

Helen Chapman, TfL’s Director of Licensing, said the flaws the regulating body has found in Ola’s operating model may have put passenger safety at risk.

Will appeal the decision, says Ola

In an emailed statement to MediaNama, Ola said that it will appeal the decision, and assured that the company will operate as normal for the next few days. Marc Rozendal, managing director, Ola UK 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. 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.”

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Ola said it was confident all issues flagged by TfL have been corrected and that would be demonstrated on appeal.

Ola fails to learn from Uber’s example

Uber, Ola’s immediate competitor in India as well as the UK, has had a similar experience with the London regulator. TfL had refused to renew Uber’s license in 2017, which the company appealed successfully to get a 15-month “provisional” license. In November 2019, TfL yet again refused to renew the license. After months of uncertainty, Uber managed to overturn the decision and secure for itself a 18-month long license.

In fact, when Ola officially announced its intention to enter London in November 2019, it had been just days after Uber was stripped of its license. TfL had found that drivers had faked their identities on Uber’s apps and taken at least 14,000 unauthorised trips. It had seemed that Ola had learnt from Uber’s mistakes: the company introduced a facial recognition system to reduce the risk of impersonation and re-entry of blocked drivers. However, it seems Ola wasn’t so successful at keeping the TfL satisfied after all.

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