Uber’s Rivals Muscle in to Lure Passengers, Regulators in Europe

(Bloomberg) -

Uber’s rivals are stepping up the battle for ride-sharing dominance in Europe, with local startups raising funds and global adversaries increasing contact with local regulators as they seek to gain a toehold in the region.

Taxify OU is looking to raise $50 million in the first quarter to fund expansion plans, according to a person familiar with the matter. The move comes after the Estonia-based startup revealed in October that it received backing from Chinese giant Didi Chuxing.

Mytaxi — a black-cab taxi app backed by Daimler — is also looking to expand the number of cities it serves across Europe, including a handful of new cities in the U.K., said general manager Andy Batty.

Interest in London, Europe’s most lucrative market, has also increased from providers outside Europe. In late October, Ola board member and former Vodafone chief executive officer Arun Sarin and Ola founder Bhavish Aggarwal met with Michael Hurwitz, Transport for London’s director of transport innovation, to discuss developments in the industry in London and India, according to meeting records seen by Bloomberg News.

From November 2016 to November 2017, executives at Uber’s main U.S. rival, Lyft Inc., met with TfL seven times, most recently with an October phone call between TfL managing director Leon Daniels and Lyft head of global policy Mike Masserman to discuss the mayor of London’s transport strategy. While both sides won’t elaborate on matters discussed, these meetings are typically designed to pave the way for doing business in the U.K. capital. Previous entrants have spent time forging ties to London regulators before submitting transportation licenses.

“We regularly talk to companies around the world about innovation that could improve transport in London,” TfL’s Hurwitz said in a statement.

A spokeswoman from Lyft declined to comment. Ola didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Much of the perceived opportunity stems from Uber’s recent conflicts with regulators. The European Union’s top court in December ruled Uber must be regulated as a transportation service, a blow to the company’s attempts to avoid taxi rules and licensing requirements. Uber is also appealing Transport for London’s surprise decision in September to ban the app on safety and regulatory concerns. The court hearing is set for either April or June. Uber is hoping that it can settle its issues with TfL outside of court, a person familiar with the matter said.

A spokesman from Uber declined to comment.

The recent ruling narrows the difference between companies such as Uber and Taxify — which rely on connecting an ever-growing pool of self-employed drivers to pick up passengers — and rivals such as Mytaxi and Gett, which allow users to hail local licensed black cabs.

“All depends how the cases that are currently pending will deploy,” said Matteo de Renzi, CEO of Gett UK. “In the short term it has been definitely an opportunity for the whole industry, I think, a big wake-up call for the traveling public and corporates.”

Taxify is concentrating on winning over drivers. “This year our main value prop is the same — treating drivers better,” said Markus Villig, founder and CEO of Taxify, who cited a commission of 15 percent versus Uber’s 25 percent. He added that the startup is targeting $1 billion in revenue in 2018.

Other rivals are looking at M&A opportunities. In late December, Daimler — the German maker of Mercedes and Smart automobiles — bought a majority stake in French private-hire limousine operator Chauffeur Prive. Daimler already owns Mytaxi and Car2Go, a car-sharing service that lets consumers pick up a car on the street.

Despite Uber’s latest setbacks, rivals still have some way to go to catch up. Gett operates in about 100 cities, including New York, London and Moscow. Taxify operates in 19 countries, while Mytaxi is active throughout Germany and the U.K.

By comparison, Uber is active in various guises throughout almost all of Europe, and is the dominant player in both London and Paris. Taxify is still waiting for approval from TfL to operate in the U.K. capital after the regulator in October halted operations less than a week after they started.