More pain for Uber as arch-ri­val moves in

San Francisco-based Lyft pre­pares to gate­crash UK as de­tails of high-level talks with TFL chiefs re­vealed

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Front page - By James Tit­comb

UBER’S arch-ri­val Lyft has paved the way for a move into the UK that would see it di­rectly chal­lenge its US coun­ter­part on Lon­don’s streets and pile more mis­ery on the ride-hail­ing gi­ant.

Lyft, the $7.5bn (£5.5bn) start-up, has held a se­ries of high-level talks with of­fi­cials at Trans­port for Lon­don and City Hall in the last year, Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion records show.

The dis­cus­sions do not ex­plic­itly state the San Francisco com­pany is pre­par­ing to gate­crash the UK, but sug­gest it has taken a keen in­ter­est in the mar­ket and on trans­port pol­icy.

The news comes days af­ter TFL stripped Uber of its li­cence in Lon­don last week, a huge blow for the com­pany that will see its cars taken off the roads if an ap­peal against the ban fails.

Uber, which has 40,000 driv­ers and 3.5m cus­tomers in the cap­i­tal, was told on Fri­day it is not “fit and proper” to op­er­ate and that its li­cence will not be re­newed when it ex­pires on Satur­day.

Lyft ex­ec­u­tives in­clud­ing head of global strat­egy Mike Masser­man and chief strat­egy of­fi­cer Raj Kapoor have held three face-to-face meet­ings and two phone con­fer­ences with TFL of­fi­cials in the last year, the records show. The con­ver­sa­tions have cen­tred on how Lyft’s busi­ness model works and around Lon­don mayor Sadiq Khan’s new trans­port strat­egy.

They in­clude a meet­ing in Lon­don last De­cem­ber at­tended by He­len Chap­man, who runs Tfl’s taxi and pri­vate hire di­vi­sion; Peter Blake, its direc­tor of ser­vice op­er­a­tions for sur­face trans­port; and three un­named at­ten­dees from the Greater Lon­don Au­thor­ity. The most re­cent meet­ing was held in New York in March be­tween Mr Masser­man, Mr Kapoor and Tfl’s in­no­va­tion direc­tor for sur­face trans­port Michael Hur­witz.

Lyft was founded in 2012 and has since spread to hun­dreds of US cities, where it com­petes di­rectly against Uber. Al­though it op­er­ates a sim­i­lar busi­ness model, it has po­si­tioned it­self as more so­cially-ac­cept­able than its much big­ger and more con­tro­ver­sial com­peti­tor.

Mr Masser­man, pre­vi­ously Lyft’s head of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions, was given a new role in charge of global strat­egy this year, and job ad­verts de­tail how it is work­ing on mak­ing its apps work in other coun­tries and lan­guages. The firm is re­port­edly con­sid­er­ing en­ter­ing other global mar­kets in­clud­ing Canada and New Zealand.

Lyft does not have a reg­is­tered com­pany in the UK or a pri­vate hire li­cence, which it would need to re­ceive to be­gin op­er­at­ing. Any at­tempt to launch in Lon­don could well face op­po­si­tion from taxi groups and politi­cians who may fear a new car-hail­ing app adding to con­ges­tion in the city. How­ever, it will have been em­bold­ened by Uber’s strug­gles in the cap­i­tal. Uber faces a lengthy bat­tle over its fu­ture in the city. TFL said it had failed to en­sure pas­sen­ger safety, ne­glected to re­port crim­i­nal of­fences and fol­low rules on back­ground checks. Al­though Uber will be al­lowed to con­tinue op­er­at­ing as it ap­peals, its strug­gles will be seen as an op­por­tu­nity for any new en­trant.

Lyft did not com­ment. Mr Hur­witz said: “We work closely with tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies around the world to sup­port in­no­va­tion that could im­prove trans­port in Lon­don.”

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