Uber's arch-rival Lyft has paved the way for a possible move into the UK that could 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) San Francisco 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 after TfL stripped Uber of its licence in London, 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.
TfL has today informed Uber that it will not be issued with a private hire operator licence. pic.twitter.com/nlYD0ny2qo— Transport for London (@TfL) September 22, 2017
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, in charge ofs 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 director of transport innovation Michael Hurwitz.
Lyft was founded in 2012 and has since spread to hundreds of US cities, where it competes directly against Uber and is now believed to be planning international expansion to maintain growth. 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, which arrived in London in 2012, faces a lengthy battle over its future in the city.
TfL said on Friday it had failed to ensure passenger safety, neglecting to report criminal offences and follow rules on background checks.
Although Uber will be allowed to continue operating as it appeals the decision, its struggles will be seen as an opportunity for any new entrant.
Unlike Uber, Lyft has stuck to the US so far, and has been grabbing market share in recent months as its main rival reels from a series of corporate crises. Although it operates a similar business model, it has positioned itself as more socially-acceptable than its much bigger and more controversial competitor.
Lyft declined to comment. Mr Hurwitz said: "We work closely with technology companies around the world to support innovation that could improve transport in London. We are very much open to new ideas and are engaging tech companies and innovators on some of the challenges facing the city."