Uber, the San Francisco-based ride-hailing cab company, has lost its case against Transport for London (TfL) to remove the mandatory English Language test requirement for private hire drivers in the U.K., a major setback for the company which could result in the grounding of thousands of its drivers.
Uber initiated the court proceedings in August against the TfL imposed rule which demands that drivers should be able to prove their ability to communicate in English, with a set standard of reading and writing which Uber argued was too high for drivers to meet.
According to the cab app company, the test is rather “unfair and disproportionate, ” and it would appeal against the high court decision.
Well, as far as the new ruling goes it’s not that Uber has been singled out – it is applicable to all minicab companies in London.
While admitting that the TfL regulation could well mean 40,000 drivers failing the test over three years, Judge John Mitting rejected Uber’s petition saying “TfL are entitled to require private hire drivers to demonstrate English language compliance.” He also said that TfL had no workable alternative to the rule.
It must be mentioned here that the required English Language test costs £200 per appearance and lasts for two hours with a 120-word essay being part of the test.
Tom Elvidge, Uber General Manager in London, said: “While we are glad the court agreed with us on the other measures TfL tried to impose, this is a deeply disappointing outcome for tens of thousands of drivers who will lose their livelihoods because they cannot pass an essay writing test.”
“We’ve always supported spoken English skills, but writing an essay has nothing to do with communicating with passengers or getting them safely from A to B,” he added.
QC for Uber and the drivers, Tom de la Mare, appealed to the High Court judge that the mandatory English Language requirement would mean that over a period of three years as many as 70,000 drivers would fail to get their driver’s licence terming the language requirement as “somewhat contrived” and “incapable of justification.”
According to Uber it would have an adverse impact on drivers hailing from non-English-speaking countries and would give rise to feelings of “indirect discrimination on the grounds of race and nationality.”
TfL’s argument, on the other hand, was based on the premise that the ruling was necessary for passenger safety and to raise service standards.
“Drivers being able to speak English and understand information from passengers and licensing requirements is a vital part of ensuring passengers get the high level of service they need and deserve,” said Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London.
“TfL will, of course, look at the High Court judgment in detail to ensure all our policies fully comply.”
This could include discussing a better route, talking about a medical condition, or ensuring every driver is fully up to date with new regulations,” he added.
Sam Dumitriu, head of projects at the Adam Smith Institute, was critical of the ruling saying, “These tests are not only expensive but excessive, and will do little to improve public safety. We’ve already seen London taxi drivers of 20 years or more struggling with essay questions about the Aurora Borealis and snowboarding, do we need them to have read Shakespeare too?”
“There’s clearly no public interest here, only the interests of the vocal Black Cab Lobby. Sadiq Khan should listen to drivers and scrap them,” he said.
According to Uber, the judge ruled in its favor on three counts one of which was that a U.K. based call center was not binding on Uber.