App-based mini cab firm Uber has lost a High Court challenge against new Transport for London rules requiring private hire drivers to pass English language tests.
Before they can work in the capital, all taxi and private hire drivers have to be approved by TfL which recently unveiled a series of reforms, including new insurance and language rules and promises to recruit more enformcent officers, in order to ensure passengers get a high level of service.
Google-backed Uber brought its challenge against the new English test, which costs around £200 per driver, because it claimed the rule exceeded what was necessary to ensure drivers could communicate with passengers and risked putting a third of drivers out of business.
However the firm’s challenge has been rejected by High Court Judge John Mitting who said: “TfL are entitled to require private hire drivers to demonstrate English language compliance.”
Although the court has upheld three other challenges, including against the need for drivers to have commercial insurance even when their vehicle isn’t being used for private hire, the language test verdict will be a clear set back for the firm which has enjoyed rapid expansion in the capital.
Uber’s success in London has prompted a fierce backlash from the city’s traditional black cab trade and resulted in an unsuccessful challenge against the legality of its app-based model.
The firm’s General Manager, Tom Elvidge, described today’s ruling as “a deeply disappointing outcome for tens of thousands of drivers who will lose their livelihoods because they cannot pass an essay writing test.”
He added: “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.
“Transport for London’s own estimates show that their plans will put more than 33,000 existing private hire drivers out of business.
“That’s why we intend to appeal this unfair and disproportionate new rule.”
Commenting after the ruling was announced, Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “I’m delighted that the courts have today backed my plans to drive up standards and improve passenger safety in London.
“Drivers being able to speak English and understand information from passengers and licensing requirements is a vital part of ensuring passengers get the high standard of service they need and deserve.
“This could include discussing a better route, talking about a medical condition, or ensuring every driver is fully up to date with new regulations.
“From my first day at City Hall I have been determined to drive up standards and improve safety for every taxi and private hire passenger travelling in London.
“TfL will of course look at the High Court judgement in detail to ensure all our policies fully comply, as we continue to work to improve standards and passenger safety across London’s private hire and taxi services.”