TfL defends English test rules amid Uber complaints

Transport bosses have defended new regulations requiring private hire drivers to pass a test in English, following criticism from Uber.

The company said the exam would put drivers out of work.

From 1 October, Transport for London (TfL) will require the qualification of licence applicants from countries where English is not the majority language.

The new rules will apply to anyone seeking a new licence or a licence renewal.

Initial proposals had called for only proficiency in spoken English, but the final draft requires, among other criteria, at least an intermediate language qualification.

Besides the spoken portion, the exam also tests reading, writing and listening skills.

It is referred to as the “B1” level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Someone who passes will have the “ability to express oneself in a limited way in familiar situations and to deal in a general way with non-routine information”, the framework says.

‘Threatened livelihoods’

Uber said it supported the need for drivers to pass a spoken exam but the requirement to pass a written English exam would “threaten the livelihood of thousands of drivers”.

In an email to users calling on them to write to the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, Uber’s general manager in London, Tom Elvidge, said: “Fewer drivers will mean longer waiting times or no cars when you need them most.”

He also said the B1 qualification would demand more of applicants than the British citizenship test.

In addition, Mr Elvidge said TfL’s new rules were more stringent than those the government applied to employees who interacted with the public as part of their duties.

Helen Chapman, TfL’s general manager of taxi and private hire, said they were “working to modernise and improve standards in London’s private hire industry” and it was appropriate for an English language requirement to apply to private hire drivers.

A TfL spokesman said it was presumed that to pass the black cab drivers’ “Knowledge” exam, applicants would need a much higher proficiency in English than the intermediate level to be required of private hire drivers.