Uber loses court bid to block English test for drivers

The headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. (Eric Risberg, AP)
The headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. (Eric Risberg, AP)

London - Uber Technologies Inc. lost a ruling over London transport rules that require language tests for drivers, which could keep 40 000 people from joining the industry over the next three years.

Judge John Mitting ruled in favour of Transport for London on Friday, saying that it is reasonable for "drivers to demonstrate a level of competence in written and spoken English."

Uber, however, won on other TfL rules, with the judge striking down provisions on round-the-clock call centres and driver insurance.

San Francisco-based Uber has fought with regulators around the globe over the technology that traditional taxi companies say threatens their existence.

In London, Uber won a suit against TfL over the use of its app as a taxi meter before losing a suit brought by drivers seeking employment rights including the minimum wage and holiday pay.

Uber said that while it had won on a majority of points, it would still appeal the portion of the ruling on language tests.

"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," the company said in a statement.

"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."

At a hearing earlier this week, Uber had called the new rules "irrational," arguing that 40% of private car-hire drivers could fail the language tests. Those fears were borne out by recent tests, where 45% of applicants have failed the English exams, Mitting said.

Regulations for round-the-clock call centres and requirements for drivers to be insured to carry passengers at all times, whether working or not, were tossed out. There is no need to duplicate Uber’s current system for non-urgent inquiries, but TfL is entitled to force them to set up a hotline for emergency calls, Judge Mitting said.

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