London is proposing a mandatory English language test for drivers of private hire taxi companies, including Uber. The San Francisco-based ride-sharing startup has been fighting the plan in court since last summer, and argues that the new rule would force thousands of drivers to lose their jobs.
Uber is challenging a proposal from Transport for London (TfL) that would require all private hire drivers to take and pass an English language exam. Uber recently said the mandate would mean almost a third of the city’s minicab drivers would lose their jobs.
Private hire, or minicab, vehicles are regulated differently than traditional taxis. Typically, the biggest difference between the two is that private hire cabs needs to arrange rides before picking up passengers, while taxis are free to pick people on the street. Uber is considered a private hire transportation provider.
30,000 Jobs Potentially Lost, Says Uber
TfL argues that the language requirement is an issue of public safety, citing the importance of clear communication between drivers and their passengers. Uber says the requirement discriminates against drivers who aren’t English speakers and isn’t necessary.
London, the most populous city in England, has more than 100,000 private hire drivers and Uber’s lawyer says he believes roughly 30,000 would fail the language test. English is the United Kingdom’s official language, according to The Commonwealth.
There are over 100 languages spoken in the city of roughly 8 million, with around 20 percent of residents speaking a different native language than English.
According to Reuters, Uber took the issue to court in August after TfL said private hire drivers should be able to prove their English competency through a reading and writing exam. CNN reported that the proposed exams for private hire drivers require more than the language tests necessary for British citizenship.
The Guardian reported that TfL initially planned to only require drivers not from predominately English-speaking countries take the test. This provision was challenged in court and found to be discriminatory.
Taxi vs. Rideshare Battle
As the taxi cab industry loses money and drivers companies like Uber and Lyft, many traditional cabbies have been upset by the lack of regulations required for ride-sharing companies. Reuters reported the English-language mandate was proposed partly in response to outcry from London’s taxicab drivers.
It seems unclear how much of an impact a driver’s native language has on the effectiveness of service and ride safety. The Register reported on one Uber passenger who said she was taken on a 240 mile round trip to the wrong destination due to her driver not speaking English.
The hearing on whether to implement the test for drivers will continue until Thursday.