A Bolt sign is seen on the taxi car in Riga, Latvia. Picture: REUTERS/INTS KALNINS
A Bolt sign is seen on the taxi car in Riga, Latvia. Picture: REUTERS/INTS KALNINS

London — Uber rival Bolt, formerly known as Taxify, has relaunched in London — nearly two years after its operating licence was revoked by the city’s transit authority.

The Estonian company, backed by Daimler and most recently valued at $1bn, said on Tuesday it would compete in the UK capital by offering lower fares for riders, and by taking a smaller cut of driver earnings compared to its rivals.

Bolt CEO Markus Villig said about 20,000 drivers had signed up to work with the company in London so far. All candidates must pass background checks in person at Bolt’s offices prior to being permitted to offer rides, he said.

“It’ll take a few months to get everyone through the onboarding process, but currently hundreds of drivers are joining per day,” Villig said in an interview ahead of the launch.

Bolt is one of Uber’s biggest competitors in Eastern Europe and Africa, and in March said it was preparing to expand into the food-delivery market and utilise its existing network of drivers to do so. Villig said the startup will focus on ride-sharing only in London initially, however.

The company held more than a year of negotiations with Transport for London to re-obtain its operating licence after being suspended in September 2017, a week after starting, following questions about how it acquired its first permit.

“About two years ago we acquired a local private hire company called City Drive, which had only a few dozen drivers, and we used their licence to launch our service,” Villig said. “Transport for London said that wasn’t permitted under its rules, so we then started a full application which is what has now been granted.”

Bolt isn’t the only ride-hailing service London’s transit regulator has taken strict action against. In 2017, it withdrew Uber’s licence over safety concerns. The US company, currently operating on a temporary licence, made efforts to appease regulators by creating 24-hour telephone support hotlines, promising better contact with police, and pledging to report any “serious incidents” that occur during a passenger’s journey.

Bolt said it would launch with a 24-hour support line staffed in London, and an in-app “panic button” for riders and drivers in the event of any safety concerns during a trip.