Ola takes on Uber with its safety pitch as it drives operations to London

Topics Ola | SoftBank | Uber

Ola cabs
How does a brand, built for India’s uniquely chaotic roads and discount-seeking riders, break into the fragmented ride-hailing market in London? Especially, since this is a market where its flashier counterpart, Uber, has struggled to keep its wheels on.


At Ola, the Bengaluru-headquartered ride-hailing firm, the answer has been to stick to the knitting. Launched in London this week, it has retained the brand name and, in advertising campaigns, Ola is highlighting the safety features it developed for Indian roads. For instance, the two-step identification for Indian passengers whereby they share an OTP code with the driver to ensure that the cab they booked is the cab they are riding in, makes its way to the ride’s London experience.


Arun Srinivas, COO and Global CMO, Ola says, “Three key things a customer looks for in this market are safety and comfort, clean cars and a good quality driver.” These are universal desires that Ola hopes to fulfil.


Safety is high on its mind and Ola is bringing in an AI enabled safety feature, ‘Guardian’. The tool automatically detects irregular vehicle activity. Another feature that the app is flaunting is a ‘Start Code’ that ensures customers and drivers are correctly matched. The app also has a ‘panic button,’ a 24/7 voice support for riders and drivers and a cap of six penalty points for drivers on its platform. Besides, Uber the closest rivals for Ola include Bolt and Kapten in London.


Harish Bijoor, founder Harish Bijoor Consults said, “Ola fulfils a need gap in London. Uber has had a bumpy ride there. To that extent, Ola has a lot to learn from Uber’s hits and misses.” Both companies are backed by Softbank and are going head to head on Indian roads too; Uber is present in a fraction of the cities that Ola is present in currently but is expected to ramp up its reach in coming months.


Bijoor believes that Ola must infuse courtesy into its driver training programmes, he sees it as an intangible loyalty factor that most ride-hailing app cabs lack in London. Reinventing customer service is the task at hand, and that calls for training. It is equally a function of getting in younger driver partners. “However, there is nothing to leverage in its Indian roots and in fact, it must leave its Indian roots here while going to other countries,” he added.


London will be the twenty-eighth city in UK that Ola operates in, where Srinivas claims, the app download numbers have already breached the six-figure-mark. While promising riders safety, Ola is also luring them with £25 of ride credit for signing up in the first week. It is also going all out to woo its driver-partners, a community that could potentially (and literally) halt the brand in its tracks, if their demands are ignored. As an inaugural offer, Ola drivers will retain 100 per cent of their earnings for the first six weeks.


“Ola will be the market leader in a year,” says Srinivas. The company, which is expanding as a global brand, says its differentiated focus on drivers, safety and a collaborative approach with local authorities and regulators will help crack the London market open.


Ola claims it has over 25,000 drivers registered on the platform, close to half the total drivers with ‘private hire vehicle license’, a ticket that allows them to drive cabs in London. To woo drivers, the company is offering them six weeks of zero commission and market-leading commission rates thereafter, enabling them to keep more of their earnings.


To ensure safety and quality of service, Ola has partnered with DriveTech (the UK-based fleet risk, safety management and driver training company) to create an additional training platform for their drivers. Additionally, through a tie-up with Pearson, Ola is making sure its drivers learn to communicate clearly and politely with passengers.


The London foray is part of the company's expansion plan in the international market. Ola launched in February 2018 from Australia, followed by the UK in August 2018 and New Zealand in November 2018. The company says that over 85,000 driver-partners have registered on the Ola platform across 33 cities. In the UK, over 30,000 drivers have signed up on the platform, Ola said.

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