In this photograph taken on September 12, 2019, Ola cab drivers talk with each other as they wait for passengers by a roadside in Amritsar. (PhotoL NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images)

Transport for London (TfL) has refused to grant Ola a new operator’s licence after finding a number of failures that could have risked public safety, a decision that the Indian ride hailing company will appeal.

The transport regulator, in a statement, said it has refused to grant Ola a new London private hire vehicle (PHV) operator’s licence as it cannot find it fit and proper to hold one.

Ola, which had started operations in London in February this year, has 21 days (October 24) to appeal the decision.

It can continue to operate pending the outcome of any appeal process.

“We have been working with TfL during the review period and have sought to provide assurances and address the issues raised in an open and transparent manner,” Ola UK Managing Director Marc Rozendal said in a statement to PTI.

Ola will take the opportunity to appeal this decision and in doing so, Ola’s riders and drivers can be rest assured that it will continue to operate as normal, providing safe and reliable mobility for London, he added.

“At Ola, our core principle is to work closely, collaboratively and transparently with regulators such as TfL,” he noted.

In its statement, TfL said it was recently made aware of a number of failures that had potential public safety consequences.

These included historic breaches of the licensing regime that led to unlicensed drivers and vehicles undertaking more than 1,000 passenger trips on behalf of Ola, and failure to draw these breaches to TfL’s attention immediately when they were first identified.

“Our duty as a regulator is to ensure passenger safety. Through our investigations we discovered that flaws in Ola’s operating model have led to the use of unlicensed drivers and vehicles in more than 1,000 passenger trips, which may have put passenger safety at risk,” Helen Chapman, TfL’s Director of Licensing, Regulation and Charging, said.

Chapman added that if Ola does appeal, it can continue to operate and drivers can continue to undertake bookings on behalf of Ola.

“We will closely scrutinise the company to ensure passengers safety is not compromised,” she said.

According to sources, most of the issues were technical in nature and have been corrected and the same will be communicated in the appeal.

At the time of launching its services in London, the Bengaluru-based company had said over 25,000 drivers have registered on its platform. Ola operates in 27 cities in the UK, including Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool.

The development comes at a time when Ola’s rival Uber has recently won a legal bid to restore its London operating licence that had been taken away over safety concerns. TfL had refused to grant Uber a new licence in 2019, following which it had appealed against the decision. Uber had faced a similar situation in 2017 as well.

The timing is also critical given that ride-hailing services were adversely impacted by the COVID-19-induced lockdowns in various parts of the world. As businesses gradually return to normalcy, players like Uber and Ola are focusing their efforts on ensuring health and safety of driver-partners and passengers during rides.

Ola – which competes against Uber in markets like India and the UK – had made its international debut in Perth, Australia. Since then, the Softbank-backed company has expanded to New Zealand and the UK. It has a presence in about 250 cities globally.

Prior to its London launch, Ola had stepped up its focus on safety and added new features like ‘Guardian’ that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to automatically detect irregular vehicle activity.