Uber loses UK court bid to block English written test for drivers

Uber says a written test has nothing to do with communicating with passengers and that tens of thousands of drivers could lose their jobs.
Uber says a written test has nothing to do with communicating with passengers and that tens of thousands of drivers could lose their jobs.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Uber Technologies 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 London transport authority Transport for London (TfL) yesterday, 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 minimum wage and holiday pay.

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

"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 per cent of private-hire car drivers could fail the language tests.

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 the company to set up a hotline for emergency calls, Judge Mitting said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2017, with the headline 'Uber loses UK court bid to block English written test for drivers'. Print Edition | Subscribe