New law scraps English language proficiency test for New York City's cab drivers

The American flag is reflected on a taxi in Times Square on Memorial Day, May 30 in New York.
The American flag is reflected on a taxi in Times Square on Memorial Day, May 30 in New York. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The average New York City taxi driver may still be sassy, but will not be required to speak English any longer.

The change is the result of a new law that Mayor Bill DeBlasio signed in April and went into effect on Friday (Aug 19), eliminating the English proficiency exam for taxi and for-hire vehicle drivers.

It is the latest big change for cab drivers as policymakers and regulators try to adapt the city's requirements to demographic and technological changes. The legislation created a single licence for all taxicab and for-hire vehicles and eliminated the English language proficiency test, according to a New York City Council website.

The Council described the requirement as "a significant barrier to entry to driving a taxi" in a statement announcing the bill and other related legislation in January.

New York is home to nearly 144,000 active drivers of medallion cabs, livery cars and other for-hire vehicles, according to a 2016 report from the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Over 90 percent of those drivers are born outside the United States.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission is working with the Mayor's office on a potential education programme that would include English language vocabulary for drivers, a spokeswoman for Commission said.

The new law was part of a broader legislative package that also included a bill to require the Taxi and Limousine Commission to directly administer a health care services programme.