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Uber loses court challenge over new language rules for drivers in London

Uber London Ltd has lost its High Court challenge over new language requirement rules planned for private-hire vehicles.

Opponents of the proposed Transport for London (TfL) package, which includes a requirement that drivers undertake tests in reading and writing basic English, claim it will lead to "indirect racial discrimination" and threaten the livelihood of around 30,000 drivers.

The company, which has a private-hire vehicle (PHV) operator's licence, launched the action with three individually licensed drivers.

On Friday in London, Mr Justice Mitting said TfL was entitled to require drivers to demonstrate compliance with the English language requirement and there was not any practical alternative.

The judge went on to quash other requirements relating to a telephone service to deal with complaints and insurance.

Tom de la Mare QC, for Uber and the drivers - Hungarian national Sandor Balogh, Bulgarian Nikolay Dimitrov, and Imran Khan from Pakistan - told the judge that the language requirement would over three years contribute to 70,000 applicants failing to obtain a licence.

The changes, involving insurance and the provision of call centre facilities, were also likely to lead to additional costs for PHV operators running into millions of pounds, he 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".

TfL argued that the requirements were vital to ensure passenger safety and to raise standards.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: " I'm delighted that the courts have today backed my plans to drive up standards and improve passenger safety in London.

"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.

"From my first day at City Hall, I have been determined to drive up standards and improve safety for every taxi and private hire passenger travelling in London.

"TfL will of course look at the High Court judgment 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."

The judge said that a measure like the language requirement, which would have such an impact on so many people, must be justified and proportionate.

He was satisfied that TfL had shown that the public interest in question - the safety, welfare and convenience of passengers - could not be protected by any less restrictive means available to it.

The judge refused Uber permission to appeal, although it can renew its application directly to the Court of Appeal.

Peter Blake, Transport for London's director of service operations, said: "The judgment today means that we can ensure that all licensed drivers have the right level of English, which is 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.

"We will reflect on today's judgment and consider how best to deliver the further improvements we want to see to passenger safety and to standards across the industry."

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.

"Transport for London's own estimates show that their plans will put more than 33,000 existing private hire drivers out of business.

"That's why we intend to appeal this unfair and disproportionate new rule."

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