Is TfL holding back Uber’s rivals?

By Kitty Knowles 22 November 2017
Image: Jo Bertram

The big problem with Transport for London’s supremacy.

In terms of keeping its licence, Uber’s still caught in a ‘will they won’t they tryst’ with Transport for London.

Quite understandably its rivals are now seizing the moment to move in on its turf. But something stands in the way.

Licensing is the bane of taxi businesses hoping to broach the British capital.

And the paperwork has seen Taxify, Citymapper and Via left in the lurch.

Taxify’s failed plans

Taxify is Uber’s Estonian competitor. It made a name for itself on its bold aim to offer affordable fares, while paying drivers more. This earned it 1m loyal customers.

Back in September, the taxi company which already operates in 19 countries in Eastern Europe and Africa (including war zones) announced its launch in London.

It had already won 3,000 drivers hearts – perhaps unsurprising, given that it wants to offer them 85% of their fare, compared to Ubers 25% cut.

But Taxify’s vision was scuppered before it has got wheels on the road, after it tried to use a loophole in TfL’s licence system.

Instead of settling for a wait that could take up to a year, it acquired an undisclosed existing operator in London.

It applied for a new licence, and you can bet that it’s still waiting.

Poor stuck Citymapper

Citymapper, on the other hand, also today appears sat on the sidelines waiting for its licence from Transport for London to come through.

Known for its transport app, the company excited us this summer by announcing plans to use data to help tackle unmet transport needs.

With TfL permission, it trialled a bus route over the summer, and even explored a partnership with Gett last month, where shared cabs could be called on demand to navigate popular route.

It’s not a massive leap to imagine ‘smart’  busses that adjust their routes according to a city’s needs.

Yet Citymapper is still waiting months after applying for a private hire operator licence.

“We submitted a PHV application to TfL over six months ago and it’s been a slow process,” Citymapper president Omid Ashtari told City AM today.

“However, we are confident that our track record with our app and services like Smartbus CM2 and Black Bus BB1 will lead to a positive decision in a city that is open to innovation.”

Via and on

New York’s Via is yet another company still snubbed after unveiling global expansion plans, starting with London. A deal had been struck with Mercedes-Benz to provide vans for its carpooling model.

But it’s today still hanging months on.

As of now, Uber’s licensing appeal could take months, even years to finalise.

Could it be that its burden is weighing down TfL, slowing procedures that could help better businesses get on the road?

Or in the wake of the scandal is TfL taking even greater care before giving the green light again?

A TfL spokesperson issued the statement: “We work closely with technology companies around the world to support innovation that could improve transport in London.”

“Our regulation of London’s taxi and private hire trades is designed to ensure passenger safety, with private hire operators having to meet rigorous regulations, and demonstrate to TfL that they do so, in order to operate. TfL must be satisfied that an operator is fit and proper to hold a licence.”

Something’s got to give, but where?