Uber rivals mobilize as the company's future in London becomes uncertain

Key Points
  • Several of Uber's competitors have made no delay in using the company's misfortune in London as an opportunity.
  • Uber is still the biggest ride-sharing player in the U.K. capital, with 45,000 drivers and 3.5 million passengers.
  • But new entrants like Bolt, Kapten and Ola are looking to chip away at the company's dominance.
A man holding up a smartphone with the Uber transport app visible on screen, while taxis queue in the background, on June 4, 2019. (Photo by Olly Curtis/Future via Getty Images)
Olly Curtis | Future | Getty Images

As Uber faces the prospect of being banned from London, several of its competitors are looking to try to lure away drivers and customers from the company.

The ride-sharing giant lost its license to operate in the U.K. capital on Monday, however it can still operate there while it appeals the move. Still, its rivals made no delay in using the company's misfortune as an opportunity.

"London needs ride-hailing, but we don't need Uber," declared French ride-hailing app Kapten, which launched in the city earlier this year. "We believe it is the duty of a responsible ride-hailing operator to work cooperatively with regulators," said Bolt, another newcomer in London.

Not long after Transport for London's (TfL) decision not to renew Uber's operator license, Bolt sent customers an email claiming "news about the other ride-hailing app in London has brought us thousands of new sign-ups already."

New kids on the block

Whether these companies can successfully chip away at Uber's dominance — even with all the regulatory pressure it faces — is another story. The Silicon Valley firm is the dominant player in London's ride-sharing market, with 45,000 drivers and 3.5 million passengers.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber's CEO, said over the summer that he doesn't see such start-ups as a threat. "The new competition that we're seeing in London are frankly competitors that we're familiar with," he said. "So far we're not seeing anything in London that's a surprise or unexpected."

But Bolt has gained considerable momentum since launching in London. The company claims it's signed up over 30,000 drivers since rolling out in June. Meanwhile, Kapten boasts a network of 16,000 drivers.

Then there's Ola, the Indian ride-hailing firm, which said just a day after Uber lost its license that it would start registering drivers ahead of an official launch "in the coming weeks." Uber and Ola share Japan's SoftBank as an investor.

"Uber's growth in London has shown the need for ride-hailing services," Pedro Pacheco, senior research director for automotive and smart mobility at Gartner, told CNBC. "Uber's possible ban from this city can open growth opportunities for competitors as there will be customer demand to be satisfied."

Some of Uber's younger competitors say that a key edge they have over the company is their lower prices. Both Bolt and Kapten came into London promising cheaper fares and they take less commission from their drivers than Uber does.

"We stand ready to take over as the first-choice provider in London, if it comes to that, and we actively strive to achieve that position, as we have done in many of our European and African markets," said Sam Raciti, Bolt's U.K. country manager.

The old guard

On the other hand, Uber is also dealing with competition from the local black cab industry which it disrupted heavily when it took on London's taxi scene back in 2012.

Other ride-sharing companies in London could take market share: Analyst
Other ride-sharing companies in London could take market share: Analyst

Taxi apps like Israel's Gett and Germany's Free Now have managed to provide an Uber-like service for traditional licensed taxis in London. Free Now, formerly known as Mytaxi, is the ride-hailing unit of a joint venture between carmakers BMW and Daimler.

"Black cabs have been moving people in and around London for centuries," Andy Batty, Free Now's chief operating officer, told CNBC. "We expect that this decision from TfL will highlight that Free Now is a superior option to get around the city safely and quickly."

TfL's decision to strip Uber of its license related to claims of fraudulent use of the app by unauthorized drivers who picked up passengers by uploading their photos to other Uber driver accounts. Batty said that safety "has to be the first priority" when it comes to regulating the ride-hailing market.

The Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association, a trade body for London's black cab drivers, welcomed TfL's move Monday, claiming "Londoners will be safer as a result."