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British High Court Forces Uber Drivers to Take English Tests

Uber has lost a battle in the British High Court which has ruled that all private hire taxi companies must have their drivers pass an English language test to be allowed to operate in London.

High Court Judge John Mitting shut down Uber’s appeal of Transport for London’s (TfL) new English requirements that were proposed last year, arguing that “TfL are entitled to require private hire drivers to demonstrate English language compliance.”

TfL argued that to better serve Londoners, private hire drivers who originated from non-English speaking countries would have to hold a B1-level English qualification. The issue for Uber resulted not from drivers having to learn to speak English, but the fact that to pass the test, their drivers would also have to show skills in reading and writing.

Uber argued that this requirement was too far-reaching, welcoming the opportunity to go before a judge on the issue in September of last year. Tom Elvidge, the general manager for Uber London at the time, argued that “TfL’s plans threaten[ed] the livelihoods of thousands of drivers in London, while also stifling tech companies for Uber.”

However, the decision was not all bad for Uber. TfL had also proposed that a dedicated call center for passengers had to be set up, along with drivers taking out more insurance than was necessary. These measures were struck down by the judge. Elvidge noted these wins for the company, but stressed that the decision was overall negative:

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. Transport for London’s own estimates show that their plans will put more than 33,000 existing private hire drivers out of business. That’s why we intend to appeal this unfair and disproportionate new rule.

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