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Uber granted court review of TfL's English language test

Engadget logo Engadget 2/09/2016 Nick Summers
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Uber is trying everything to overturn stringent new rules proposed by Transport for London (TfL). Last year, the organisation took a long hard look at the capital's ride-hailing market, and concluded that a few crucial changes were needed. These included a new English language test for all Uber drivers, better customer support and vehicle insurance. Uber supported some, if not all of these proposals at first, but quickly changed its tune once the fine print was revealed. In short, the company thinks the new requirements go too far, and will affect its ability to recruit drivers.

The regulations will now be contested in court. Uber has been granted a judicial review, which will examine TfL's proposals -- which were put out for consultation last year, and approved by the organisation's board in March -- before they come into effect next month. "We're pleased that the judge has decided this case deserves a hearing," Tom Elvidge, general manager for Uber London said. "TfL's plans threaten the livelihoods of thousands of drivers in London, while also stifling tech companies."

The biggest point of contention is a new English language test, designed to ensure drivers can speak eloquently with their passengers and address any problems on the road. Under the new proposals, all Uber drivers from non-English speaking countries would need to hold a B1-level qualification. The exam looks at proficiency in speaking and listening -- something Uber broadly supports -- but also reading and writing. To pass the two-hour exam, candidates need to write a few short essays and articles (an example test shows they're about 150 words each). Uber argues that this proficiency is unnecessary, as it far exceeds the requirements for British citizenship.

The company has also taken issue with a TfL proposal that states "operators must ensure that customers can speak to a real person in the event of a problem with their journey." Guidance published in June states that the "person" must be working from a licensed London centre -- it can't just be the driver you've taken a trip with. Uber believes this is unfair because "there is no similar requirement on black cabs." Such a building would, of course, require considerable investment, and Uber stresses that you can always contest a fare or inefficient route through the app.

A spokesperson for TfL said the organisation is looking forward to the judicial review, as it will provide closure on the "remaining issues" contested by Uber. "The changes to private-hire regulation were made to enhance public safety and we are determined to create a vibrant taxi and private hire market, with space for all providers to flourish."

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