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Uber Finally Has Ride-Hailing Competition in London

Since arriving in 2012, Uber has had a patchy relationship with London, finding resistance from the city’s iconic black cabs, as well as transit authorities. But in the company’s largest European market, it did have one clear advantage: a lack of direct rivals.

That stretch ended on Tuesday, as Estonia-based competitor Bolt launched its service in London, the first in a wave of expected new competitors, including Indian ride-hailing app Ola.

Bolt’s arrival marks the company’s return to the London market, after its previous attempt two years ago, under the name Taxify, was cut short following a city transit authority investigation into its permit. The company had obtained the permit through acquiring a London-based company that already possessed one.

“After TfL decided almost two years ago that our attempt to start operating in London via acquiring an existing operator did not comply, we reapplied for a license immediately and have gone through an extremely thorough licensing process that was successfully completed a few weeks ago,” a spokesperson for Bolt told Fortune. “Since then we have also completely rebuilt the team and the operations in London.”

In re-launching on Tuesday, Bolt set out to differentiate itself from Uber, pledging to give drivers a larger share of the profits and provide more safety features. The company has 20,000 drivers signed on, the company said.

The service is available in 17 other EU countries, including France, as well as several markets in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. In a profile in the New York Times, CEO Markus Villig said the company had chosen to focus on regions where Uber didn’t have as large a presence.

Last year, the company raised $175 million in funding from Daimler, along with funding from Transferwise and Chinese ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing.

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Even with pushback from London, Uber has expanded there with Uber Eats and its bicycle service Jump. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Jack Taylor—Getty Images

Meanwhile, India-based Ola is expected to enter the London market later this year, according to the Financial Times. Ola did not respond to a request for comment.

Uber has not had to grapple with Lyft, its largest rival in the U.S., in London, but its business in the U.K. capital has faced challenges from the city itself.

Last June, the company won an appeal that ended a ban on its operations in London but was only granted a 15-month probationary license.

Since then, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has defended the city’s right to cap the number of Uber vehicles, and he’s faced a lawsuit from drivers who are claiming racial discrimination over the city’s plans to charge them a daily congestion charge.

Nonetheless, Uber has also moved into other businesses in London, including its food-delivery service Uber Eats. And in May, the company launched a pilot of its free-floating bike service, called Jump.

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