Friday 3 March 2017 11:16 am

Taxi for Uber: High Court rules in favour of TfL saying private hire drivers will have to pass a written English exam

Uber has lost a key part of its High Court case against Transport for London (TfL), after a High Court ruled private hire drivers will be forced to pass a written English exam.

The firm did though, win other parts of its case, so it won't have to provide a telephone call centre for passengers open 24 hours a day. The transport body is entitled to make Uber set up a hotline for emergency calls though.

Uber also won on what it considered unjustified insurance demands; TfL wanted drivers to have commercial insurance when vehicles aren't being used as private hire vehicles. 

The judge said TfL was "entitled to require private hire drivers to demonstrate English language compliance".

Uber said it will appeal the "unfair and disproportionate" rule on English written tests. Tom Elvidge, general manager of Uber in London, said:

While we are glad the court agreed with us on the other measures TfL tried to impose, this is a deeply disappointing outcome for tens of thousands of drivers who will lose their livelihoods because they cannot pass an essay writing test.

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. 

Uber had challenged the legal basis for the rules proposed by Transport for London (TfL), whereby London minicab drivers would need to pass written tests.

Read more: No suitable alternative for excessive test, TfL tells court in Uber case

The taxi-hailing app firm had accepted some degree of reading and writing ability is needed, but argued the test proposed in its current form is excessive. Lawyers for Uber said TfL's estimates indicated 33,000 drivers would either fail the test or be deterred from trying to renew their licence.

TfL has said the test, which will cost drivers £180 apiece to take, is necessary to boost standards across the industry.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:

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.

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.

Initially TfL announced the test would be compulsory for anyone seeking to obtain or renew a licence to driver a private-hire taxi from 1 April 2017, irrespective of nationality. It was then pushed back to September after the legal challenge from Uber.

The transport body licenses nearly 118,000 minicab drivers.

Speaking to the London Assembly Transport Committee yesterday, TfL commissioner Mike Brown, said the English language requirement had received "very strong support" in both consultations carried out.

Read more: Uber vs TfL: New rules could cost 33,000 drivers their jobs

He stressed that there needed to be "a proper impact assessment", but that TfL also recognised the general issues around public perception "and people's concern that a driver is able to understand them" if they have a health problem, or an issue emerges during the course of the journey.

Brown acknowledged that "there may be" fewer licenced private hire drivers as a result of the English language requirement but that it was "a bit too early to say what the impact will be".

Today, TfL's director of service operations Peter Blake, said the incoming test would be "vital for customer safety".

“The court also recognised the need for passengers to be able to contact the private hire company they’re using should an emergency arise," Blake said. "We will reflect on today’s judgement and consider how best to deliver the further improvements we want to see to passenger safety and to standards across the industry."