Citymapper runs into Transport for London's Uber innovation buffer in private hire licence application

 
Lynsey Barber
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The startup wants a licence for its plans to create new ways of travelling (Source: Citymapper)

One of the UK’s top startups is the latest to have its ambitions thwarted by London’s transport regulator, which has been accused of dragging its heels when it comes to supporting innovative new companies in the wake of its row with Uber.

Citymapper has been left waiting months for approval for a private hire operator licence by Transport for London (TfL) according to sources close to the company, City A.M. can reveal.

Such a licence must be obtained to operate a minicab firm in London. Uber was denied a renewal of its licence in a shock move in September.

Read more: Uber licence appeal could take years, says London mayor

Citymapper’s app uses TfL’s open transport data, but it’s understood that the firm has been left frustrated after running into a hold up when it comes to working with other parts of the organisation.

The startup is experimenting with new forms of transport that it sees as a third option between public and private transport. It launched its own bus route over the summer, for which it was given permission by TfL, and a partnership with Gett last month, for on-demand shared cabs that operate on fixed routes.

The application for a licence is understood to be related to its ambitions to make buses "smart" and more responsive to real-time needs of travellers, rather than traditional ride-hailing service.

"We submitted a PHV application to TfL over six months ago and it’s been a slow process," said Citymapper president Omid Ashtari.

"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.”

Two new startups wanting to take on Uber in the capital first told City A.M. in September they had encountered difficulties in the licensing process. Taxify and Via have also waited months for their applications to go through, with little communication from TfL on its progress. Both are understood to still be waiting for the green light.

Read more: London minicab firms threaten TfL with legal action over licence costs

The controversy around Uber over a number of years culminated in TfL deciding not to renew its licence. The service can still operate while it challenges the decision, which the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said could take years.

“We work closely with technology companies around the world to support innovation that could improve transport in London," said a spokesperson for TfL.

"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.”

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