Uber granted court review of TfL's English language test

A written exam is a step too far, the company argues.

Sponsored Links

Carl Court/Getty Images
Carl Court/Getty Images

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, improved customer support and better vehicle insurance. Uber supported 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 new regulations will now be contested in court. Uber has been granted a judicial review which will examine some, but not all of TfL's proposals. "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 like Uber." The company is keen to paint this as a victory, but that's an oversimplification; TfL has stressed that much of Uber's application was thrown out by the High Court. That means the scope of the review will be narrower than the ride-hailing firm would have liked.

The biggest example of this? 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, Uber drivers from predominantly non-English speaking countries will 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 exam, candidates need to write a few short essays (an example test shows they're about 150 words each). Uber argues that this rule is unnecessary, as it far exceeds the requirements for British citizenship.

According to TfL, the judicial review will only look at whether there should be "exemptions" to the new English language requirement. The broader "principle," which covers the need for reading, writing and speaking proficiency, won't be discussed. "We note that the court has refused permission for judicial review of the principle and standard of English language test, the requirement for hire and reward insurance and the ability for customers to speak to someone by telephone," TfL added.

Uber says it's also unhappy with a new 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 clarifies that the "person" must be working from a licensed London centre -- it can't just be the driver the passenger has taken a trip with. Uber believes this is unfair because "there is no similar requirement on black cabs." Such an outfit would, of course, require considerable investment, and Uber stresses that you can always contest a fare or inefficient route through the app.

TfL says the High Court refused part of Uber's request. It won't, for instance, review the requirement that ride-hailing companies have a telephone-based customer support line. The panel will, however, look at the suggestion that the call centre needs to be based in London.

"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," a TfL spokesperson told Engadget. "We look forward to the remaining issues being resolved in due course."

Update: TfL has supplied more information about the High Court's decision, detailing what was approved and rejected for the judicial review. These details have been added to the piece where appropriate.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Popular on Engadget