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Uber has won a minor victory in its quest to overturn a controversial rule that would force some of its U.K. drivers to pass an English-language test.
First announced last year by then London Mayor Boris Johnson, the test would require drivers from non-English speaking countries to pass an English reading, writing, and listening test — and produce a certificate to prove it. Public transport body Transport for London (TfL) had planned to implement the new rule, among other regulations, starting October 1. But last month, Uber filed a legal challenge in the U.K. capital.
“This legal action is very much a last resort,” said Tom Elvidge, general manager at Uber London, at the time. “We’re particularly disappointed that, after a lengthy consultation process with Transport for London, the goalposts have moved at the last minute and new rules are now being introduced that will be bad for both drivers and tech companies like Uber.”
Now, after an initial judicial review, Uber has won the right to take TfL to court. “We’re pleased that the judge has decided this case deserves a hearing,” said Elvidge. “TfL’s plans threaten the livelihoods of thousands of drivers in London, while also stifling tech companies like Uber.”
There are still other pending regulations that Uber wishes to challenge, including TfL’s requirement that Uber open a local call center in London and a requirement that it notify TfL of any “changes to the operating model” of its business.
Uber has previously supported the idea of a requirement that London drivers to be able to communicate in English, but it claims the proposed tests are too rigorous. In other markets, for example, Uber has partnered with language-learning platform Duolingo to help match English-speaking riders with English-speaking drivers — English being a lingua franca and the most commonly spoken second language globally. As part of this tie-up, the Duolingo Test Center lets anyone become “certified” as proficient in a language for $20, and it takes no longer than 20 minutes to complete the test remotely.
The latest legal challenge comes amid mounting tensions between the traditional “black taxi” industry, which requires drivers to pass a comprehensive test called “The Knowledge” that takes two (or more) years to prepare for and involves memorizing nearly every street in London. By contrast, Uber and other private car companies require no such test, and Uber has been accused of encroaching too far into the black-cab drivers’ territory.
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