Uber Loses Court Bid to Block English Test for Drivers

  • Judge says it’s reasonable to show English ‘competence’
  • Uber wins part of ruling on passenger insurance for drivers

How Uber and Airbnb Bent Laws and Made Billions

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 favor of Transport for London 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 centers 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 case 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.

“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.”

The ruling caps a tumultuous few weeks for the ride hailing app, after its Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick was filmed arguing with a driver over pay, and Uber was forced to open an investigation into sexual harassment and discrimination claims by a former employee. It was criticized for nominating company insiders to conduct the probe.

Irrational

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

Regulations for round-the-clock call centers 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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