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The Courts Transportation

Uber Loses Legal Test Case Over Language (bbc.com) 139

Ride-hailing service Uber lost a court battle on Friday to stop a London regulator from forcing private hire drivers to prove their reading and writing skills in English, the latest setback for the firm in London which could now lose some workers. From a report: The ride-hailing app went to court after Transport for London (TfL) said that drivers should have to prove their ability to communicate in English. Uber argued that the standard of reading and writing required by the test was too high. The US firm said the test was "unfair and disproportionate" and it would appeal against the court's decision. The ruling will also apply to all minicab firms in London. "TfL are entitled to require private hire drivers to demonstrate English language compliance," said Judge John Mitting as he rejected Uber's claim. Tom de la Mare QC, for Uber and the drivers, told the judge that the language requirement would result in 70,000 applicants failing to obtain a licence over three years. The proposals would have a disproportionate impact on drivers from countries where English was not generally spoken and give rise to "indirect discrimination on grounds of race and nationality."
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Uber Loses Legal Test Case Over Language

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 03, 2017 @10:47AM (#53969307)
    How about we require call center employees to demonstrate english language compliance?
    • by TWX ( 665546 )
      We do. That's why so many are in India.
      • by mjwx ( 966435 )

        We do. That's why so many are in India.

        Where they were taught the Queens English (yay colonialism).

    • I agree with the sentiment, though it is a bit short-sighted. The U.S. does not have an official language to enable people to stay in touch with their heritage, let those from Mexico continue to speak Spanish. These people are trying to work *with* English speakers for their job, they took the initiative of learning our language to do so. I'm as annoyed as the next person by the list-readers that are not tech support, usually I'm more irritated with their lack of help than I am with their ability to speak.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 03, 2017 @11:11AM (#53969451)
        the reason that many people in Europe speak multiple languages is because they are in close proximity to other countries where these languages are spoken. Europe is kind of like a shattered pane of glass of little countries all mixed together. It makes sense to be able to communicate with people who live near you. When you're from Arkansas.... not so much utility in knowing all these other languages when anyone with a thousand miles of you is an English speaker. It would be a waste of time that you could have spent learning something more useful to you.

        We even go so far as to visit a country like France, and if they don't speak English, we speak English slower and LOUDER until they get what we are saying.

        I've found a sturdy smack on the temple helps as well.

        • Also some European countries have large population groups that have different cultures and languages. Take a country like Belgium where there are several different groups all within the same country. The northern parts which are Dutch and Flemish culture largely speak Dutch and the southern part of the country in the Wallonian region speak French (or a dialect of it) and then there's a small region on the Eastern part of the country where German is spoken.
          • The northern parts which are Dutch and Flemish culture largely speak Dutch

            That's like saying a piss drunk Irish man speaks American English. Funny story, we were on a bus in Croatia sitting behind 3 girls, and I could make out like 1 in 100 words. Eventually I gave up and asked them what language they were speaking. They said Dutch, I said bullshit. They laughed. Apparently the entirety of their conversation on the bus so far was them complaining to each other that the Dutch couldn't understand them :-)

            The divisions within a country are even more severe than you make out.

        • Learning another language also provides you with cultural information on other countries and is an alternate way to think about anything. It provides you with a second view of the world. This is usually helpful, especially when you live in Arizona or North Dakota.

          • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

            Not it doesn't. Learning about the relevant country in your foreign language class does to some extent. However this information is pretty much universally ignored by American students based on the general ignorance level in the US.

      • It's funny that you mention France, because inside Europe, they are known to be notoriously worse at languages (specially regarding English).

        And it's probably because of the same reasons: it's a (relatively) big country (on the scale of Europe), you can easily get around using french in lots of places (oversea territories in south america, former colonies all over africa including from north, qebec in canada, etc.), and they are really proud of their unified culture.

        Also in the specific case of english, it

        • by cshay ( 79326 )

          I have found this is true in Germany as well. Overall, English proficiency is much worse than in other countries.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's common for Europeans to be able to speak 3 or more languages. The U.S. doesn't reciprocate that idea, we seem to think that English should be the standard world-wide. We even go so far as to visit a country like France, and if they don't speak English, we speak English slower and LOUDER until they get what we are saying.

        When I was learning a second language but wasn't very good at it, I sometimes had trouble understanding native speakers. This was because they spoke quickly and not always clearly.

        You know what helped me understand them? When they spoke SLOWER and LOUDER.

        So maybe you can stop repeating this false idea that speaking English slower and louder is just Americans being stupid.

        • by Maritz ( 1829006 )

          So maybe you can stop repeating this false idea that speaking English slower and louder is just Americans being stupid.

          The joke is that speaking louder would help when the listener knows not a single word of the language. Do you understand Korean when spoken slowly and loud?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 03, 2017 @02:53PM (#53971085)

        I think it's useful to remember that in many cases, English is kind of the world's common language.

        It's not so much that people from the US have some strange arrogance that the rest of the world doesn't exist. It's more so that first the British conquered a large amount of the world and then the US became the dominant country -- so English is a kind of standard.

        That's why if you want to do international business and you're from France, you probably speak English as well. While it's not so necessary in reverse. It's more useful for those in other countries to learn English since it's so prolific.

        Of course this can and most likely will change over the years. In a hundred years most of the world may speak Mandarin and it doesn't make sense for Chinese to spend their time learning some little country's language.

        The point is, the water moves with the biggest boat. If you're on the biggest boat everything moves around you.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        UK is the same. We speak English and the universal language of shouting.

        This test isn't about speaking skills though. It's the written essay part that is contentious. The last one said "write a short essay about Mars." Not very relevant to diving a taxi.

        • by mjwx ( 966435 )

          UK is the same. We speak English and the universal language of shouting.

          This. You can easily spot an Englishman overseas because he's the one who steadfastly believes that any language barrier can be broken simply by shouting loudly in English.

        • by Maritz ( 1829006 )

          The last one said "write a short essay about Mars." Not very relevant to diving a taxi.

          This test is run by Transport For London. It's not just for taxi drivers.

          It's a test of literacy. Do you find it surprising that they don't discuss only transportation? lol.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        Once here in the Deep South, I encountered a tourist from Germany who spoke no English. He spoke German slowly and loudly when I didn't appear to understand. Slowly and distinctly enough that I with my 1 year of German years before was able to get the gist of his question and direct him to the park he was looking for.

      • It's common for Europeans to be able to speak 3 or more languages.

        And odds are one of them will be English. More than once I've heard someone from France say "Does anybody speak English? I need to find out how to get where I want to go." on a German bus. English (not American) is the de facto language of travellers (and air traffic controllers) because chances are the country you are in has been invaded by the English at some time in history.

        • But if you go to my country (and probably other countries that were occupied by the USSR), you will find that a lot of older people can speak Russian (it was mandatory to learn in the USSR), but younger people may not, but younger people are more likely to speak English (it is mandatory to learn a second language in school and most schools choose English) than older people.

      • While it is common for Europeans to be able to speak foreign languages, you cannot be sure which ones. For example, people in my country usually can speak at least one foreign language. But some speak Russian and others speak English as a second language. Some know both, some know some other languages.

        However, I would be incredibly annoyed if I went into a store (or called a taxi) and the employee could not speak the national language well enough to be understood without me asking the same thing multiple ti

    • I don't want to be connected to a f***ing call center!

      I want to talk to a human being!
    • Perhaps because while Uber has plenty of the former, they don't seem to have any of the latter?? ;)
  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @10:52AM (#53969335)

    This is not a "Ride-hailing company". It is a taxi company.

    • taxi company so do they have drivers with small 'topographical test' in order to obtain a 'Private Hire' Drivers Licence??

      and anyone with the knowledge?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You don't need The Knowledge to be a private hire driver in London, so I expect not. Uber are, on the other hand, a licenced private hire operator in London, through their subsidiary Uber London Ltd.

        I do think "ride-hailing" company is particularly inapposite in this case, though, given that private hire vehicles are expressly *not* allowed to be hailed in London (unlike taxis).

        • There is a topological test. Not to the level of The Knowledge but the guidelines seem to suggest you have to know your way around London somewhat.
      • Re:Newspeak is real (Score:5, Informative)

        by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @11:30AM (#53969577)

        taxi company so do they have drivers with small 'topographical test' in order to obtain a 'Private Hire' Drivers Licence??

        Yes [tfl.gov.uk] private hire licenses require topographical assessment. Called the "The Knowledge" [theknowledgetaxi.co.uk] it is the most stringent test in world apparently.

        You will need to undertake a topographical skills assessment from an accredited assessment centre

        The requirements seem sensible:

        • at least 21 years old
        • valid drivers license at least 3 years old (no new drivers)
        • valid work eligibility in UK (no illegal immigrants)
        • background check
        • medical exam
        • topological test aka "The Knowledge"
        • I don't think that the "topographical skills assessment" is the same as "the knowledge". Read the exemptions.
    • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @10:59AM (#53969389) Homepage Journal
      Ride hailing is actually a perfectly reasonable description. It's "ride sharing" that's the dubious - no, not dubious, more or less completely false - description of the main product.
      • "No, the taxi regulations don't apply to us. We're a ride-hailing company, not a taxi company."

        "Oh. So, what's the difference?"

        "Ride-hailing companies aren't regulated."

        "Oh."

        • "No, the taxi regulations don't apply to us. We're a ride-hailing company, not a taxi company."

          "Oh. So, what's the difference?"

          "Ride-hailing companies aren't regulated."

          "Oh."

          Oh aren't they? Then why are they complaining about their drivers losing their private hire licenses?

          Your example may be relevant in the USA where taxi monopolies design the regulations, but in many places in the EU (and the UK since we need to get used to addressing them separately) Uber are no different than many taxis other than they set their prices using a different method. Ever Uber I've ever called has the same blue license plate that indicates a car will carry 3rd parties as a taxi, or chartered lim

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Uber against discrimination. But only when it justifies them exploiting people in precarious jobs.

    Go broke, greedy assholes.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So, if Uber wins the appeal you have to hire people you cannot communicate with or you'll get sued for discrimination?

    I'm surprised there hasn't been a widespread media campaign already, calling employers racist because they require language proficiency.

    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )

      So, if Uber wins the appeal you have to hire people you cannot communicate with or you'll get sued for discrimination?

      This is about Transport For London.

      I'm surprised there hasn't been a widespread media campaign already, calling employers racist because they require language proficiency.

      You're really easily surprised.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As much as I'm a fan of Uber, I just can't even vaguely take their side on this one.

    I've been in a number of taxis (of all sorts, from many different companies) and struggled communicating where I wanted to go with the driver, and it's the last thing you want to do - especially in a city you don't know. If the driver can't even fulfil the most basic obligation of their job, then it's not really the job for them.

    I feel that the courts are basically just enforcing the very most 'basic customer service standar

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I agree with Uber on this. Noone in London, Great Britain, should be required to speak English. It's a clear discrimination to require someone to speak English in England. I mean which stupid racist thought up this ridiculous requirement.

    I have to wonder though. Given that terms of service and all information is in English how does Uber expect them to enter into valid contractual agreement if they cannot fucking understand English? Oh right.

    • by unixisc ( 2429386 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @11:57AM (#53969787)
      Maybe Uber should redo their rules so that any passenger who wants to use their ride must have a working knowledge of Urdu or Bangladeshi.
  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @11:05AM (#53969425)

    Does anyone really have a problem with requiring public hire drivers speak the local language? I mean, it is a place called "England" and presumably it's called "English" because it is the indigenous language of the people of England.

    • by garyok ( 218493 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @11:32AM (#53969589)

      Uber cabs are not public hire (that would be black cabs in London), they're private hire. You can't flag them on the street. But I have no problem with the ruling. You need to be able to talk to your taxi driver. You might have a preferred route, or need to give instructions round a one-way system, or tell them to let you out at the shops. It's a customer-facing position and it demands a certain level of communication skills, in this case an acceptable standard in the nation's official language.

      And it's not like Uber are sticking up for the hard-working, hard-done-by drivers here. They just need warm bodies to keep accruing marketshare until the Johnnycabs are certified and they can ditch the lot of them.

    • This ruling applies to all private-hire drivers, but I think that it has become necessary because of Uber.

      In the pre-Uber days, a private hire driver was dispatched by an office that could communicate with the driver. This means that the driver always had a translation service available to him/her (the dispatch office).

      With Uber, the driver has no such resource available for translations. Perhaps as translation apps on cellphones get better, English proficiency won't be required.

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      It is just so no Scots are able to work in London.

    • But that's the thing, Uber already has a pretty good system for weeding out non-English speakers. And if only the taxi system in the US actually copied the Uber rating system, the US taxi system would quickly get rid of its non-English speakers.

      Disclaimer: I am an Uber driver in the US and I would actually financially benefit if the US copied the UK, but honestly, I believe this is a solved problem for Uber and this complaint is just a pretext. The real issue is that many people hate Uber (many Uber drivers

      • But that's the thing, Uber already has a pretty good system for weeding out non-English speakers.[...] The real issue is that many people hate Uber (many Uber drivers included) and this supposed test is just a way to stick it to Uber in the UK and reduce its workforce.

        That makes no sense.
        If Uber already weeds out non-English speakers, Uber will not be affected by this ruling, so the Uber workforce will not be reduced.
        If the Uber fworkforce is being reduced due to this ruling, it means that a substancial part of the Uber workfoce doesn't speak English well enough, which means that Uber does not have a 'pretty good system' to weed out non-English speakers.

        • A far as I've understood, the complain of Uber is that the official level imposed to cab driver is much more strict than uber asks from its driver.

          Because of this uber is going to lose lots of driver who know enough bits of english to be functional in communicating with the client (e.g understand where to drive them), but who don't have advanced written/oral comprehension.

          I.e.: Uber needs and selects people with A1 levels of language proficiency,
          London imposes B2 levels on cab drivers.(*)

          Or in other words,

      • by Maritz ( 1829006 )

        Then Northern Ireland and Wales will also demand to get in on the action by demanding that a similar test in Gaelic and in Welsh be used in their area for at least a certain percentage of Uber drivers.

        Sometimes, the 'thin end of the wedge' type argument is a fallacy. This is one of those times.

    • Does anyone really have a problem with requiring public hire drivers speak the local language? I mean, it is a place called "England" and presumably it's called "English" because it is the indigenous language of the people of England.

      I know that where I live, the Peoples Republic of California, any rules about English only are viewed by many as tools of oppression against "undocumented immigrants" and the brown man in general. Of course this is also a state where the citizens can't figure out which bathroom to use and are spending billions on a bullet train to nowhere while actually used infrastructure rots so I have low expectations on common sense.

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        Maybe I'm some kind of fascist, but I think making English the official language of the US makes a bunch of sense. Obviously not forcing anyone to speak it privately, but I think it would go a long way towards ensuring a cultural assimilation and stamping out the kind of cultural ghettos that Europe seems to have problems with. And really, it's probably a softer technique than banning mosques and other more heavy-handed techniques.

        My parents' neighbor (elderly) was the child of Polish immigrants. She sai

        • Obviously not forcing anyone to speak it privately, but I think it would go a long way towards ensuring a cultural assimilation and stamping out the kind of cultural ghettos that Europe seems to have problems with.

          Except most European countries do have official languages. Why do you think it would help in the USA if it doesn't help in Europe? Especially considering how USA has failed to integrate black people for over a century?

    • by joboss ( 4453961 )
      I think drivers should have some minimal reading skill and speaking skill. Basic though. You need to read signs, communicate with customers, etc. The company should consider offering some language training in cases.
    • by TheSync ( 5291 )

      "English" because it is the indigenous language of the people of England.

      English is the language of the Anglo-Saxon invaders, later bastardized by Norman French invaders.

      Common Britannic (which developed into Welsh and Cornish) is the indigenous language of England...

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      It's the level of skill required that is at issue. Speaking English is one thing, but the requirement here is to pass a written exam with essay section that school kids study two years for.

  • https://slashdot.org/recent [slashdot.org] doesn't list this story. If it had, I'd have voted it down. The constant flood of Uber stories is getting annoying.

  • This company deserves to get fined for all it's worth for its rampant trampling of regulations, consumer protection laws, and poisonous work culture.

    It boggles the mind that they're still attracting drivers and customers after so many years of being openly obnoxious.

    • This company deserves to get fined for all it's worth for its rampant trampling of regulations, consumer protection laws, and poisonous work culture.

      It boggles the mind that they're still attracting drivers and customers after so many years of being openly obnoxious.

      They're still leaps and bounds better than the taxi companies, which is why they're still here. If you're not able to drive somewhere you want to go, you're probably not going to be thinking about their corporate culture. You're going to be more interested in: how much will it cost, and when will you get there? It's not like everyone refuses to buy clothes until all the sweatshops are closed. They need clothes. Don't care where they come from. Same with Uber.

  • by fiannaFailMan ( 702447 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @01:14PM (#53970355) Journal

    I once got into a taxi at an airport in Chicago. Before we set off the driver pointed at the meter talking in thick Pidgin English that I could barely understand. The only word I could pick out was "meter." I just nodded politely and said yes because I wanted to get to my hotel for a meeting. When I got to the hotel he started wrangling with me to about paying more than was on the meter, apparently he had turned it off at some stage of the journey for some unfathomable reason. He got really belligerent about it too. The hotel was reimbursing me for the trip and after about five minutes of him, the hotel concierge and me trying to discuss it I just asked the manager to reimburse him what he wanted because I hadn't a clue what was going on and it was only another $20 or so.

    I know that some people like apps like Uber because they minimize human communication, but it's still a vital skill. As long as you're not asking drivers to write a book report on Ulysses by Joyce, expecting them to communicate clearly in the local language is not too much to ask for.

    • Ulysses...English. I think you haven't read it.

      It is more coherent than _Finnigan's_Wake_. But that is saying very little.

    • by King_TJ ( 85913 )

      Exactly.... I don't call for an Uber because I'm looking forward to a long chat with the driver. But it's terrible service when they can't even communicate well enough to figure out where I want to go, or how to pick us up.

      I had that experience in Rockville, MD recently when a group of us got tired of waiting on a MARC commuter train that had major delays. I called for an Uber but the driver who accepted it was unable to locate us. I could see him circling the vicinity on the map in the app, but he wasn't t

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