India's Ola eyes Australia market in tussle with global rival Uber

FILE PHOTO: An employee speaks over his phone as he sits at the front desk inside the office of Ola cab service in Gurugram, previously known as Gurgaon, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee/File photo

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian ride-hailing company Ola announced plans on Tuesday to enter Australia, marking its first foray outside its home market and intensifying its tussle with U.S. rival Uber Technologies Inc.

Ola will begin inviting private vehicle owners and driver partners to work with it in the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, with plans to start commercial operations in the country in early 2018, the startup said in a statement.

Rival Uber’s presence in Australia could potentially help Ola because regulations for such services are in place and drivers are already aware how the system works, said Satish Meena, senior analyst at research firm Forrester.

“Cab sharing isn’t very new anymore and everyone is ready, but Ola may find it more expensive to lure customers and drivers initially,” Meena said.

Ola, founded in 2011, has been locked in a fierce battle with Uber for a bigger piece of India’s $12 billion taxi market. It has a majority share in the country’s ride-hailing market with operations in more than 110 cities.

The company, also expanding into the food delivery business, has tied up with Microsoft Corp to build a connected car platform and is experimenting with electric vehicles.

Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp is the biggest investor in both Ola and Uber.

Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Jacqueline Wong