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Uber drivers in London will have to pass an English exam

New rules aim to enhance 'public safety,' but Uber isn't happy

Uber drivers in London will have to pass an English language proficiency exam to obtain a license, under new rules announced by Transport for London (TfL), the city's transportation agency. Unlike an earlier proposal, which would have applied to Uber drivers from non-English speaking countries, the rules announced this week apply to all drivers for UberX and Uber's black car service.

TfL, which oversees London's private car services, buses, and subways, defended the rules as necessary to ensure public safety. "It is essential for public safety that all licensed drivers can communicate in English at an appropriate level," the agency said on its website. "Communicating with passengers to discuss a route, or fare, as well as reading, understanding and being able to respond to important regulatory, safety and travel information sent by TfL is crucial to a driver’s role in transporting the public."

"passing a written English exam has nothing to do with communicating with passengers."

An earlier proposal from TfL would have required Uber drivers from non-English speaking countries to pass a written and spoken language test. Uber filed a lawsuit to block the regulations in August, arguing that although its drivers should be able to speak English, a written exam would be burdensome and unnecessary to their jobs. Immigrant advocacy groups also criticized the written exam requirement as discriminatory.

Under the new rules, drivers will have to pay up to £200 ($245) to complete an English language test, which still includes a written portion, though they could also provide other documentation that would prove their proficiency. All drivers who applied for a license from October 14th onward will have to meet the language requirement by March 31st, 2017. After April 1st, all drivers will have to meet the requirement prior to applying for a license.

Uber criticized the new rules in a statement to Bloomberg, noting that they still include an obligatory written exam. As in other cities across Europe, the ride-hailing company has faced ongoing resistance from London's black cab drivers, who have to meet far more stringent requirements to operate in the city.

"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," Uber said in a statement. "Thousands of drivers who’ve spent years providing a great service to Londoners will now have to fork out 200 pounds and pass a writing exam, try to find an old GCSE certificate or lose their license and their livelihood."