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Shell plots move onto Uber’s ride-hailing turf with London licence application

Shell is seeking to cope with the threat from electric vehicles CREDIT: BLOOMBERG

Royal Dutch Shell is planning to crash London’s transport market with a new venture for the FTSE 100 energy giant that could create a fresh challenger to  Uber.

FarePilot, a Shell subsidiary, has applied for a private hire licence with Transport for London and has held initial conversations with drivers about a new service, The Telegraph understands.

It comes amid widespread upheaval in London’s taxi market and uncertainty over Shell’s future as petrol and diesel cars are phased out in favour of electric and hybrid vehicles. Last year, Uber was stripped of its private hire licence in a controversial move that threatens to banish its cars from London’s streets.

FarePilot, which operates out of the oil group’s London office, helps existing Uber and taxi drivers find hotspot areas where passengers are looking for fares. Rather than being an Uber competitor, it has positioned itself as a way to help them make more money and reduce emissions.

However, recent moves suggest it could have greater ambitions. FarePilot applied for a TfL licence in June and is now considering its options, although plans are not believed to be fully formed. The start-up may not go as far as a direct competitor to Uber, but could launch an “aggregator” service that makes its large pool of drivers available to existing minicab operators, giving them the scale to compete against Uber.

“FarePilot does not currently have a licence to operate as a private hire operator in London and does not currently provide driving jobs,” a spokesman said.

“Drivers often ask us however if we could further help them by giving them driving jobs and this is something that we are investigating but no decisions have been taken to go live with such a product. Should this materialise, we will ensure that all the correct commitments – including licences and procedures – are in place prior to going live.”

Several companies are weighing up moves into the fiercely competitive London market after TfL revoked Uber’s licence in September over safety concerns. Though Uber continues to operate as it appeals against the decision, operators including US rival Lyft and Estonia’s Taxify are considering launches in London.

Transport services are seen as a promising new market for established companies threatened by the rise of electric vehicles, driverless cars and ride-sharing apps.

The global threat to Big Oil was underlined by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) last year which warned that the number of motor vehicles on the world’s roads could be lower than expected as a result of the boom in ride-sharing technology, leading to lower demand for oil. Ride-sharing companies have typically been early adopters of electric vehicles which could accelerate the growth of the emission-free options across Europe.

Shell has already made a series of moves to protect its business by buying into nascent technology options which could disrupt the traditional business model of major oil companies in the future.

Mark Gainsborough, who heads up Shell’s New Energies division, told The Telegraph late last year that the innovation arm would double its investments to $2bn (£1.5bn) in 2018 to deepen its presence in the growing electricity market.

The group stunned the UK energy market late last year by snapping up First Utility for an undisclosed sum, giving it a route into the domestic energy supply market as it begins to shift towards clean electricity and electric vehicles.

The move followed Shell’s decision to team-up with Europe’s largest charging network, backed by BMW, Daimler, Ford and Volkswagen with Audi and Porsche, to create a network of 350kW chargers next to major roads in Europe.

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