Uber challenger Via has waited months for a licence from Transport for London but is raring to launch

Lynsey Barber
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Several startups are eyeing London, but have run in to regulatory issues (Source: Getty)

A startup taking on Uber in London has spoken of “frustrating delays” in its efforts to get permission to operate in the capital after months of waiting and no sign yet of getting the green light.

Via is the latest ride hailing startup to add its voice to concerns over the lack of engagement from Transport for London and the lengthy wait to get approval.

The Daimler-backed US firm’s UK boss Luca Parducci told City A.M. it is ready to launch as soon as it’s given permission, having opened an office, hired staff in the capital and with “thousands” of interested drivers.

Read more: Uber CEO writes to Londoners saying sorry "we got things wrong"

Plans for its launch into London were first revealed by City A.M.. The firm applied for an operator licence in April and it has responded to requests for information from TfL during that time.

“They have all the information they need to know,” he said adding that he hoped to replicate “extensive experience” working with regulators in New York where its platform supports 1.5m rides every month.

“We want to build a sizeable team to drive operations in London, it’s going to be a key market and [we’ll put in] as much focus and effort as needed,” he said.

German car giant Daimler recently announced plans to debut an on-demand shuttle service with its Mercedes-Benz vans and Via’s carpooling technology in a separate venture, a major move to transform it from a traditional car company into a "mobility" business. It chose London as its first market and said it intends to launch the service by the end of the year.

Uber, London's biggest minicab firm, had just one meeting with TfL this year before its licence was revoked it was yesterday revealed, and the subject was not discussed, signalling the fraying relationship between regulator and innovator.

Read more: Uber seeks licence talks with London regulators

But Lyft, a US rival to Uber with no imminent plans to launch in the UK, had five meetings with TfL in the last 12 months. It’s also understood just one meeting took place between Via and TfL in the same period and did not take place in recent months.

Taxify, another startup looking to take on Uber in London, slammed the regulator after it was told to stop operating earlier this month. It said it was forced to pursue other means of gaining a licence - buying an existing operator - after TfL failed to engage with it, despite attempts to contact the regulator 20 times.

TfL did not respond to Taxify’s enquiries about shutting it down until Thursday, nearly two weeks after the decision and a day before Uber's licence renewal was denied, City A.M. understands.

“The safety of riders is Taxify’s top priority and we are currently working with TfL to ensure we comply with all of their regulatory requirements and safety standards,” said Taxify’s founder and chief executive Markus Villig.

A TfL spokesperson said: "Our regulation of London's taxi and private hire trades is designed to ensure passenger safety. Private hire operators must meet rigorous regulations, and demonstrate to TfL that they do so, in order to operate. TfL must also be satisfied that an operator is fit and proper to hold a licence. We do not comment on individual licence applications"

Russ Shaw of global industry body Tech London Advocates said TfL had work to do in being as open to innivation as other regulators in the capital, in addition to Uber taking action.

“The revoking of Uber’s licence shows a breakdown in communication between the world’s biggest startup and one of the world’s biggest urban transport provider," he said.

"Uber’s business model is good for London, but it has been let down by poor governance. Failure to report assaults and efforts to evade regulators are completely unacceptable.

Read more: Europe will soon produce a $50bn tech startup "titan", experts predict

“TfL should also have done more to address this issue. Uber’s technology has the capacity to increase safety and unlock the night time economy, and TfL has not been as welcoming of innovation as other regulators such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)."

The banking regulator has been at the forefront of innovation, spurrng a multi-billion pound fintech industry and helping create a world leading reputation in the sector.

He added: "This incident is an opportunity for Uber to commit to higher standards and for TfL to show more transparency and welcoming of innovation. Customers will be hoping for a win-win rather than a lose-lose."

Uber today signalled a softer approach to regulators, with newly appointed chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi apologising to Londoners. And the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan welcomed the olive branch and urged a meeting with TfL.

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