Uber rival Ola offers London drivers electric vehicle incentives as it fights to regain license


Ola cab drivers talk with each other as they wait for passengers by a roadside in Amritsar.
NARINDER NANU | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — Indian ride-hailing firm Ola said Thursday it would offer its London drivers incentives to switch to electric vehicles, turning on the charm as it seeks to convince city regulators it’s fit to operate in the city.

From Thursday, Ola will waive its commission fee until Aug. 13 for drivers that own an electric model. Ola users in London will be able to request a ride from a new “Ola EV” category, which allows only drivers with electric vehicles to accept trips.

The SoftBank-backed start-up launched its app in the U.K. capital in February last year, hoping to unseat Uber as market leader. But it was subsequently stripped of its license just eight months later, with local transport authorities concerned Ola was not “fit and proper” to hold one.

Ola appealed the decision by Transport for London not to renew its license. That means it can still operate in the city. A similar thing has happened to Uber, twice, but the San Francisco-based firm managed to regain its license after a court battle with TfL.

In Ola’s case, TfL found the company had committed “historic breaches” that compromised the safety of the public. It said unlicensed drivers were able to undertake more than 1,000 passenger trips using Ola, and that the company failed to notify regulators immediately when these breaches were first identified.

“We continue to work with TfL to address the issues raised in an open and transparent manner,” Ola said in a statement. “At Ola, our core principle is to work closely, collaboratively and transparently with regulators such as TfL.”

“As Ola stated at the time of TfL’s decision, we are appealing the decision and in doing so, our riders and drivers can rest assured that we continue to operate as normal, providing safe and reliable mobility for London.”

Ola claims to have over 25,000 drivers in London, 700 of which are eligible for Ola EV. Following the launch of Ola EV, the company says it will look to extend its offers through partnerships with other businesses to encourage more drivers to make the switch from polluting vehicles.

In March, Uber reclassified all 70,000 of its U.K. drivers as workers after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that a group of the company’s drivers should be treated as workers, not independent contractors. That meant that Uber had to give its U.K. drivers a minimum wage, holiday pay and pension plans.

Other ride-hailing apps, including Ola, Bolt and Free Now, say they are reviewing the Supreme Court ruling to see if it affects their business.

Ola has been pushing deeper into electric vehicles lately. The company’s Ola Electric unit, which makes electric scooters and charging facilities, has raised over $300 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase. The firm recently hired Jaguar Land Rover veteran Wayne Burgess as its head of vehicle design.

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