Ford’s shut­tles aim to fill Uber void in Lon­don

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

FORD is gear­ing up to launch a bus net­work in Lon­don, gate­crash­ing the cap­i­tal’s crowded trans­port mar­ket and es­tab­lish­ing a new ri­val to Uber.

The com­pany’s Char­iot ser­vice hopes to tempt smart­phone-savvy com­muters away from Uber and pub­lic trans­port by pro­vid­ing fixed bus routes along com­muter hotspots. How­ever, the ser­vice is likely to face sig­nif­i­cant op­po­si­tion from es­tab­lished taxi and mini­cab firms, and may strug­gle to gain ap­proval from Trans­port for Lon­don (TFL) amid Uber’s bit­ter row over its own li­cence be­ing re­voked.

Un­like other ride-shar­ing apps, which call mini­cabs to spe­cific lo­ca­tions on de­mand, Char­iot is closer to a tra­di­tional bus. It will run 15-seater shut­tles along fixed routes and pick pas­sen­gers up along the way. The app al­lows peo­ple to pay with their smart­phones and col­lects data to help de­sign new routes, tar­get­ing those that are un­der­served by ex­ist­ing pub­lic trans­port net­works.

Ford al­ready op­er­ates the ser­vice in San Fran­cisco, Seattle, Austin and New York but is plan­ning to ex­pand abroad in the com­ing months. Its web­site shows the com­pany is re­cruit­ing a gen­eral man­ager for Lon­don, which it de­scribes as its “first in­ter­na­tional lo­ca­tion”. It has also hired Nico de Luis, who for­merly ran on­de­mand do­mes­tic clean­ing ser­vice Hassle in the UK, as its Lon­don-based in­ter­na­tional launch man­ager.

Its planned en­trance comes at a tur­bu­lent time for ride-hail­ing apps in Lon­don. Uber was stripped of its li­cence in Oc­to­ber when TFL ac­cused it of a string of safety fail­ures, al­though it con­tin­ues to op­er­ate as it ap­peals the de­ci­sion.

Tax­ify, an Es­to­nian ri­val, was forced to sus­pend op­er­a­tions just days af­ter launch­ing in the cap­i­tal. Other op­er­a­tors have ap­plied for li­cences but com­plain TFL is drag­ging its feet, say­ing it is re­luc­tant to al­low more cars on to Lon­don’s crowded streets and ac­cus­ing it of favour­ing the black cab trade.

Lyft, Uber’s US ri­val, has been meet­ing TFL of­fi­cials ahead of a planned launch, as re­vealed by The Sun­day

Tele­graph in Oc­to­ber. Char­iot was founded in San Fran­cisco and bought by Ford for $65m (£50m) last year. The deal is part of the com­pany’s plan to ex­tend its reach into “mo­bil­ity ser­vices” as it faces the prospect of con­sumers buy­ing fewer ve­hi­cles in fu­ture.

“We con­tinue to ex­plore ad­di­tional mar­kets as part of Char­iot’s ex­pan­sion plans, but do not have any news to share at this time,” Ford said.

It is not be­lieved to have ap­plied for a li­cence yet.

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