Uber's lawyers in the UK have argued against rules requiring minicab drivers to pass an English literacy test – because many of its cheap cyber chauffeurs would fail.
Last August, Transport for London (TfL) told all private-hire vehicle drivers not from a majority English-speaking country to take the reading and writing exam by the end of September this year. Drivers are exempt if they can produce a GCSE-or-better qualification.
In the High Court in London, Uber's lawyer Thomas de la Mare said that, by the government's own figures, about a third of the capital's private-hire drives – 33,000 of 110,000 – would fail the test, because it's too difficult. This would cause Uber and its drivers serious harm, he added.
"It produces the profoundest of human effects. At one extreme it will lead to the loss of livelihood," he told the court on Tuesday. It would also hurt Uber's revenues, we expect.
The language test was instituted after licensed London black-cab drivers protested that Uber and others were unfairly cutting into their business. Black-cab drivers typically undergo at least two years of training while they learn The Knowledge – how to get from A to B in the most efficient way in London.
Transport for London said that the rapid rise in numbers of private-hire drivers in the capital meant that it would have to introduce the new regulations. It argues that drivers need a basic knowledge of English for safety.
Uber UK holds a private-hire vehicle operator's license, meaning drivers using its app to pick up passengers will have to pass the TfL test. The San Francisco-based biz went to the High Court to shut down the transport agency's language test requirement. Uber is also unhappy that TfL is demanding that its app-hailed drivers must have private-hire insurance at all times, even when they are not carrying passengers, and that Uber has to run 24-hour call centres for customer complaints.
One recent Uber passenger has already complained that his driver's lack of English comprehension has cost him a pretty packet. Aaron Wray, 18, told The Sun he booked an Uber to get him from Brixton to Croydon, normally a 30-minute trip, but the driver took him to Bristol, on the West Coast, instead.
He went from brixton to croydon via Bristol 😂 pic.twitter.com/fUX3CVfWX0— GK (@gracekelly_97) February 26, 2017
"My phone was dead so I just had to sit there. I tried to ask the driver but he couldn't really speak English. I have no memory of it stopping and I didn't get out of the car," he said.
The round trip of 240 miles trip ended up taking over five hours and cost the teenager £467. Uber said that the student had input the wrong address, a claim Wray disputes.
"This was clearly an unfortunate mistake so as a gesture of goodwill we would like to offer the rider a refund," an Uber spokesperson said. ®