Uber Says 40% of London Drivers Would Fail TfL English Exams

  • New measures are discriminatory and ‘irrational,’ Uber says
  • English exams protect consumers and boosts equality, TFL says

How Uber and Airbnb Bent Laws and Made Billions

Uber Technologies Inc. attacked London rules that require drivers to have basic English skills, telling a court that 40 percent of London’s private-hire chauffeurs would fail the exams.

The tests are part of a wider package of "disproportionate and irrational" measures introduced by Transport for London that include round-the-clock call centers and requirements for drivers to be insured to carry passengers at all times, whether working or not, Uber’s lawyer Thomas de la Mare said at a hearing Tuesday. The company expects 23,000 drivers to fail the English tests each year.

The rules will impose substantial costs and "are likely to have an unjustifiably severe impact," de la Mare said in court filings prepared for the hearing. "Such a dramatic reduction in driver numbers will in time have a material impact on private-hire vehicle fares and therefore on consumers."

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.

Taken together, TFL data states the new measures will cut the number of private hire drivers in London by 45 percent to 61,000 by 2019, Uber said in its filing. The written aspects of the English tests would be more strenuous than comparable sections in the “knowledge” test taken by London’s traditional black taxi drivers, de la Mare said.

Lawyers for TfL said requiring drivers to read and write "at the equivalent of early secondary school proficiency improves passenger safety, protects consumers and improves equality," particularly for hearing impaired passengers who communicate in writing.

Uber General Manager Tom Elvidge called on TfL to scrap the rules.

“We’ve always supported spoken English skills, but passing a written English exam has nothing to do with communicating with passengers or getting them safely from A to B," Elvidge said before the hearing.

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