High Court to rule on Uber challenge over new language rules for drivers

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A High Court judge rules today on a challenge brought over new rules planned for private-hire vehicles which opponents claim will lead to "indirect racial discrimination" and threaten the livelihood of around 30,000 drivers.

The controversial Transport for London (TfL) package proposed for the capital includes a requirement that drivers undertake tests in reading and writing basic English.

Uber London Ltd, which has a private-hire vehicle (PHV) operator's licence, launched a legal challenge with three individually licensed drivers - Hungarian national Sandor Balogh, Bulgarian Nikolay Dimitrov, and Imran Khan from Pakistan.

At a recent hearing in London, Tom de la Mare QC told Mr Justice Mitting that the "somewhat contrived" language requirement would over three years contribute to 70,000 applicants failing to obtain a licence and was "incapable of justification".

The QC said TfL's own modelling, first disclosed in January, revealed that the requirement and changes to testing topographical and navigational skills should lead to a reduction in the number of PHV drivers to about 61,000 by 2019/20, about 45% of current levels.

The new rules, including having to provide new call centre facilities and meet "unjustified" insurance demands, were also likely to lead to additional costs for PHV operators running into millions of pounds, Mr de la Mare said.

TfL argues that the requirements are necessary for customer safety and public protection.

But Mr de la Mare said 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".

Many drivers, and those applying for licences, were economic migrants or asylum seekers given permission to remain in the UK who wanted to work and integrate into English life.

Mr de la Mare argued no real need had been shown for the English test and a drivers' ability to understand road signs and basic directional instructions was already sufficiently tested by the typographical test.

He said in all the time that PHV drivers had been operating, there was no evidence that restricted abilities to read and write English had led to problems.

Mr de la Mare said Mr Balogh and Mr Dimitrov had completed more than 2,000 trips as registered drivers "and never once in that time been requested to communicate (by reading and writing)".

The QC told the judge, who will announce his findings today: "If there is any such problem in relation to written communication, it is with respect small and cannot justify an impact of this magnitude."

A TfL spokeswoman said: "The changes to regulation of the private hire industry being challenged in this case are vital to ensure passenger safety and to raise standards. 

"We continue to robustly defend this claim."