back to article Uber: Please don't give our London drivers English tests. You can work out the reason why

Uber's lawyers in the UK have argued against rules requiring minicab drivers to pass an English literacy test – because many of its cheap cyber chauffeurs would fail. Last August, Transport for London (TfL) told all private-hire vehicle drivers not from a majority English-speaking country to take the reading and writing exam …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Please do this TfL.

    If a cabbie (of any sort) can't communicate with the passengers then what hope of you of getting to the correct destination.

    At the moment, Uber is not making money. They have to as they say in the USA, step up to the plate and operate properly. If they don't then they should be run out of town. That means treating their employees (aka the drivers) properly and paying them a decent salary.

    Some here may not agree with this post but ask yourselved this.

    Would you want to work for a company that results in you getting less than the legal minumum wage?

    More than likely, you wouldn't.

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Please do this TfL.

      In addition, having the drivers pass an English test might increase the chance they're able to read and understand their one-sided contract of non-employment. No wonder Uber are against it.

      Edit: they might also be able to argue back..

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        FAIL

        "Uber UK holds a private-hire vehicle operator's license,"

        So London license, London licensing rules.

        Oh wait "We're not in London, we're on the internet. That does not count."

        B**locks.

        Uber lost this the day they accepted they needed a license in the first place.

        Nor do I see any other private hire company doing this jointly with them. Not surprising. Uber want a monopoly and I think their competitors can smell it on them.

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: "Uber UK holds a private-hire vehicle operator's license,"

          'Oh wait "We're not in London, we're on the internet. That does not count."'

          That's fine if they want to drive people round "the internet". However if they want to drive people round London, then they need to abide by London rules.

    2. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Please do this TfL.

      Good English is so important: A two mile taxi journey through London isn't the same unless one is addressed at least a dozen times variously as "Princess", "Darling" and "Treacle".

      1. tony2heads

        Re: Please do this TfL. @MyffyW

        If any taxi driver addressed me as 'darling' or 'princess' I would be out of the cab instantly, as his eyesight would have to be failing.

        I have never heard ANYONE addressed as 'treacle'.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Please do this TfL. @MyffyW

          I have never heard ANYONE addressed as 'treacle'.

          Watch early (80's) eastenders for that, tho as a 50 year resident of the area, I too have never heard it from anyone, even market stll holders

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Please do this TfL. @MyffyW

          "I have never heard ANYONE addressed as 'treacle'."

          Me neither! Except in an episode of Eastenders many, many years ago when Pete Beale still had his market stall and Meeeeeshell was in still school uniform.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Please do this TfL. @MyffyW

            "I have never heard ANYONE addressed as 'treacle'."

            I have. Older men (seventy plus, at a guess).

            Also as an occassional black cab driver (LTDA cab), I would support this English test for all public service drivers (LTDA, Uber, minicab, bus) - as long as it covers all drivers, and covers the polite and apolitical use of language.

            1. Neil 44

              Re: Please do this TfL. @MyffyW

              http://www.cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk/slang/treacle

              Treacle (Tart) = Sweetheart (apparently!)

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Please do this TfL. @MyffyW

                "Treacle (Tart) = Sweetheart (apparently!)"

                I imagine many black cab drivers would be bang alongside an English test which had a "translate from Cockney" section. That would certainly weed out the less linguistically able.

                (My grandfather was born in N8, but he had to learn Cockney to communicate* with his workforce who were largely East Enders.)

                *Work out what they were saying about him behind his back.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Please do this TfL. @MyffyW

            "Except in an episode of Eastenders many, many years ago"

            I would hate myself if I could remember any dialogue from any episode of Eastenders.

        3. tony trolle

          Re: Please do this TfL. @MyffyW

          Only person I remember using this Treacle word was Mike Reid and someone in an episode of the Sweeney.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Please do this TfL.

      If a cabbie (of any sort) can't communicate with the passengers then what hope of you of getting to the correct destination.

      Well, since you put in your exact destination when you book the ride then you've a pretty good chance. Even without that, I've always managed well enough in other countries where I didn't speak the language, as do non-English speaking passengers here. The tiny subset of English needed by a taxi driver doesn't really justify GCSE standard - fortunately for quite a few English-born taxi drivers as well.

      1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

        Re: Please do this TfL.

        Well, and many of them speak what they THINK is english, but clearly is not... just go to Glasgow...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Please do this TfL.

          Well, and many of them speak what they THINK is english, but clearly is not... just go to Glasgow...

          I reckon in Glasgow they'll need to test for both English and Glaswegian - you are right, they are indeed VERY different languages :). I think knowing a decent amount of English is essential for a cab driver, I don't think that is demanding too much.

          1. Commswonk Silver badge

            Re: Please do this TfL.

            Good English Glaswegian is so important: A two mile taxi journey through London Glasgow isn't the same unless one is addressed at least a dozen times variously as "Princess", "Darling" and "Treacle" as Jimmy. Often prefaced by Here yous...

            FTFY

    4. Oh Homer
      Childcatcher

      The government's policies are ambivalent

      I'm not in the "send them home" camp, but equally there's no point in letting people into this country if we're then going to prohibit them from earning a living.

    5. johng7utg

      Re: Please do this TfL.

      Can someone explain to me HOW if the driver and passenger cant communicate, how do you expect the passenger to be taken where they need to be. Im aware that sometimes there are language blocks...BUT english is a so called 'international language' and in my experience most foreigners can with help from us make themselves understood....unless of course the driver dont speak english to start with. When i started in the cab trade we had to know the area we worked in,similar to Londons Knowledge and no we didnt have satnavs....in fact i still dont have one....just an A to Z. If Uber want to operate then they should work by same rules as the rest of us. Also, in respnse to the guy who wanted to go from where was it Croydon to Brixham, and ended up in Bristol....if that did happen then I would personally have rung the bank to stop the payment and if instructed by police to pay or arrested....i would elect arrest and go to court...the driver is taking the piss doing that. It has happened locally and i picked the people up after the driver threw them out of the car. All i got told by our council was its EU rules....which is bullshit. I know for a fact that EU counties,some have very strict licence rules like we used to have...and its individual member states that decide their own rules. Also locally in my area, most UBER drivers may come through the European route but do not originate from Europe....more African,Pakistan areas....no problem with that as long as they meet the required standard of english and local knowledge. Getmany dont employ Spanish bricklayers to sork as surgeons, so why do we give licences to drivers who dont know the difference between Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower.

      1. Cereberus

        Re: Please do this TfL.

        I'd have a lot more time for these comments if the author could actually demonstrate a basic ability to communicate using written English rather than some truncated version of it.

        I could just be a bit grumpy today though because I have to deal with poor grammar on a regular basis.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Please do this TfL.

        Isn't English written with a capital E in English? Isn't I written in capitals?

        There you go, another one that complains about the lack of knowledge he/she lacks too.

  2. MatsSvensson

    Also, it would be unfair to only allow people with drivers-licensees to drive.

    Think of the tremendous amount of jobs lost!

    Let me tell you.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      'Also, it would be unfair to only allow people with drivers-licensees to drive.'

      Well, back when I worked in London (20 yrs+ ago), there was a minicab company where ISTR only three of the 20 drivers had 'kosher' licences (Insurance, that was another matter...), the rest were dodgy to various degrees (just like their passports).

      In case anyone was wondering how I know this, I was asked to look at their radio system (specifically, I was asked to make Illegal modifications to their system, which I declined to do, seriously, seriously dodgy people..). I notice from a quick check on Google they're no longer there, TF!.

      1. Commswonk Silver badge

        I notice from a quick check on Google they're no longer there, TF!.

        How would you know? The "company" has probably been through numerous changes of name and possibly even location in the 20 + years.

        Andf I doubt if they were the sole dodgy operator anyway...

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          "The "company" has probably been through numerous changes of name"

          Small point about business who rely on a reputation (like taxi firms and security firms)

          Beware any that change their names.

          It usually means something has gone seriously wrong with their staff. In the case of taxi firms the classic is some kind of sex offense with passengers.

          In the case of security companies it's usually an on site death of a guard.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          'How would you know?'

          Well, the owner had been there since the early 70's, and was pretty close to retirement back when I knew him, he kept muttering about packing it all in, selling the building to the Indian chappie who owned the rest of the properties on the street, and returning to Ireland.

          The main reason he was thinking of getting out was that he couldn't handle the increasingly 'heavy' Yardie sponsored competition, there was a spate of his original drivers getting robbed at gun&knife point causing most of them to quit (hence why he had a stable of 'cheap' dodgy drivers when I had dealings with him), that, coupled with the serious amount of fare poaching that was going (this in particular was why he wanted me to 'fiddle' with their radio systems to 'hide' their comms on frequencies other local firms couldn't listen in on, oh, and he wanted to deploy 'jammers' to interfere with the rival companies comms into the bargain as well) probably forced his hand.

          Sure, if they've not been deported (hah!) there's a good chance the drivers are still around and as dodgy as ever..though they've probably made enough money by now to buy kosher passports and licences, I do know that one of the drivers who did have a kosher license back then, and who used to run the place as an assistant manager went more into the car hire business, with a spot of 'import-export' on the side to help with the occasional cash flow problems..

          '..Andf I doubt if they were the sole dodgy operator anyway...'

          Oh, they weren't...see some of the above comments about his competitors. South London, fun, fun place..only time in my life where I've felt the need to arm myself for the usual 11:30pmish 15 minute walk from the station to the flat (and did so for around four months)..

          Looking at it on streetview, despite the surface attempts at gentrifying the place it probably hasn't changed that much, (as well as the minicab firm, the dodgy locksmith, I see, is now gone, alas, so too is one of the better wee chip shops that I ever found in London..real chips - ok, so sometimes had to wait for them to peel and slice the potatoes, but combined with the locally made Jamaican vegetable patties and hot pepper sauce, never tasted anything like them before or since - it's now another bloody estate agents).

    2. dan1980

      @MatsSvensson

      "Also, it would be unfair to only allow people with drivers-licensees to drive. Think of the tremendous amount of jobs lost!"

      While (presumably) tongue-in-cheek, this is spot-on.

      It's a similar argument used by drone manufacturers when it was ruled in some country (forget which) that drones were surveillance devices. The plea from the drone manufacturers was that this was a booming industry.

      So f%$king what?

      The argument is, essentially: the regulations shouldn't apply to us because we are making money breaking them.

  3. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    The Knowledge

    The original reason for the introduction of "the knowledge" to be a taxi driver in London was the piss-poor performance during some Victorian trade fare around 1865 when visitors got buggered around and generally the drivers failed to get them where they needed to be.

    Now you could argue that the in-depth knowledge of London's roads is a bit obsolete in these satnav days, but still many people won't know the postcode or street name of where they want to be, maybe hotel name, or major shop, etc. So it still has some value. But ultimately if the driver can't understand what you are saying it is simply not a safe or satisfactory situation. And that is not specifically about Uber, but they seem to always be scraping the barrel in terms of screwing over thier drivers, etc.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: The Knowledge

      I'd say the knowledge is completely obsolete these days , along with all the other taxi regulations.

      If you only know a hotel name you can google it , or ring someone who can , or look at your brochurre etc etc ad infinitum - The cab driver needs to be tourist info less now than ever.

      Now the amount of black cabs was limited , i think to ensure a cabbie could make a living - very anti comprtition / capitalism / market etc . Just let the market take care of it I say

      The badges and licences were there to show that your driver wasnt a murderer . I think you could do that with an eBay like feedback system these days. In fact everybody should be able to be a taxi driver and fill empty seats in their car if they want - this would go a long way to alleviating pollution , congestion and save the worlds oil supplies , as well as making the journey cheaper for all

      car sharing basically - should be rewarded not penalised.

      The whole system should be scrapped and re done - uber seem to be taking a stab at his , but not getting it quite right

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        @Prst. V.Jeltz

        Um, sorry but putting car sharing in the same basket as taxi driver is not, in my opinion, justified. Car sharing is something you organize with people who have a common destination and, upon arrival, everyone disembarks until it is time to go back. It is generally a round-trip affair. A taxi is there is take a few people to a specific place and then take another fare to somewhere else (in ideal conditions). It is a series of single-trip drives by a driver who has no specific interest in going to any of those places outside of the money he makes.

        Personally I think it is blindingly obvious that a taxi driver, being in a professional capacity, should bloody well be able to speak the language of the country he's working in, if only for safety reasons. How is he going to call for an ambulance in case of accident where he's the only one conscious ? Not to mention the more common understanding-your-customer day-to-day stuff that does make things go better, generally speaking.

        That Uber is against it is not a surprise ; Uber is against anything that costs it money, including paying their taxi drivers - but they have trouble wiggling out of that one (not that don't try). Taxi companies everywhere need a bit of competition, but backstabbing Uber is not that.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Prst. V.Jeltz

          I disagree. Driving is a great example of the kind of work that doesn't need advanced linguistic skills. It's the sort of job an immigrant might do while learning the language. These language tests are clearly a measure introduced to prop up someone's monopoly. Uber's an evil company, but they're coincidently right in this case.

          Put it another way: if having a driver with an advanced English qualification were an optional extra, how much extra would most customers be willing to pay? Not a lot, I think. So let's not make it compulsory. The government shouldn't intervene any further than establishing language qualifications so that people who want to prove their knowledge of English can do so.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @Prst. V.Jeltz

            Put it another way: if having a driver with an advanced English qualification were an optional extra, how much extra would most customers be willing to pay? Not a lot, I think.

            It's not about having English up to GCSE standards, it's about having enough knowledge to interact with customers (who, by the way, may also not speak English that well so you'd have TWO language barriers to cross), to understand warning notices, to call emergency services if something goes wrong - there is a basic amount of English you need to know just to function. THAT's what is required, and I think it's justified, also because your assertion that they should be allowed to work while still learning the language carries an unwarranted assumption that they ARE indeed learning, and not just blunder along until it goes drastically wrong.

            1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

              Re: @Prst. V.Jeltz

              Couldnt most of these issues be solved by giving the passenger control of the satnav?

              If passenger not prepared to do that cos of intoxication or not knowing postcode , or the are in general or whatever THEN you pay extra for a "delux" driver with additional satnav and/or english skills

            2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

              Re: @Prst. V.Jeltz

              It's not about having English [...], it's about having enough knowledge to interact with customers (who, by the way, may also not speak English that well so you'd have TWO language barriers to cross)

              I was in a fast food outlet one Friday evening in a major UK city. The person behind the counter and the customer both clearly were not native English speakers and could only just get by in English. It took about ten minutes for the (simple!) order to be placed.

              (Many years later, I still feel a pang of guilt that I never stepped in to help clear up the confusion)

            3. Esme

              Re: @Prst. V.Jeltz

              @AC - agreed. I've had a few issues with drivers neither able to understand 'normal' English nor communicate back to me in it. I care more about being able to communicate with a taxi driver than where they were born. If the driver can speak and understand English tolerably well, then I don't care if they were born here or just emigrated here last week. If they can't communicate tolerably well, then I don't want to be in their car.

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: @Prst. V.Jeltz

            "an advanced English"

            Basic English is what is being asked for. Those with no obvious existing qualification will be required to pass a basic test. No one is saying that GCSE English is required. That was given as an example of an existing qualification that would be accepted as proof the holder had an understanding of the Language.

            English for a taxi driver can be quite useful for reading signs, especially ones informing about current or upcoming roadworks, their duration and diversions with which a non-english speaker may well have some difficulty.

          3. katrinab Silver badge

            Re: @Prst. V.Jeltz

            GCSE isn't "advanced English", it is what everyone does at school.

            1. Korev Silver badge

              Re: @Prst. V.Jeltz

              GCSE isn't "advanced English", it is what everyone does at school.

              In this case it probably means English as a foreign language. Assuming this is the case then a GCSE would equate to "A2" in the CEFR. Copying/pasting from the wikipedia article this means that you can:

              * Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).

              * Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.

              * Can describe in simple terms aspects of their background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

              This would be enough for a cab driver I imagine.

              1. PNGuinn
                Trollface

                Re: @Prst. V.Jeltz

                In Blighty these days GCSE "English" is a joke.

                Make 'em do the Australian test. Followed by an Aussie to English Conversion Course. And test.

                At Uber's expense.

                Then ban 'em from the Earls Court area.

              2. Truckle The Uncivil

                Re: @Prst. V.Jeltz

                * Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).

                * Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.

                * Can describe in simple terms aspects of their background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

                Just a little comment about the asterisked points. They are poor and over-complex english. They are written above the standard they describe. They are ungrammatical and incorrect - I have never met anyone who communicated in any sort of task. Tasks are not normally a form of communication.

                Whoever wrote that does not speak or understand english well enough to be a cab driver.

          4. Patrician

            Re: @Prst. V.Jeltz

            Nobody has, or is, suggestion that it should be an "advanced English qualification" but there should be some requirement to be able to communicate in the host countries language at least at a basic level.

          5. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @Prst. V.Jeltz

            "Put it another way: if having a driver with an advanced English qualification were an optional extra, how much extra would most customers be willing to pay?"

            Straw man argument. We're talking about basic English. A driver living in this country who can't be bothered to learn basic English - heck, there are free Internet apps for it - doesn't strike me as being sufficiently responsible to drive other people around.

            (I am a little prejudiced perhaps because I know a Muslim couple, husband from Tunisia - he's working as a taxi driver while his wife trains as a midwife, and his English is pretty good, because he made the effort.)

      2. Adam 52 Silver badge

        Re: The Knowledge

        "If you only know a hotel name you can google it "

        Not reliably. I got in a minicab recently and asked for Harrow on the Hill station. I got dropped off at North Harrow tube station, because that's where his sat nav took us.

        1. CraPo

          Re: The Knowledge

          User error. I suspect the driver typed in Harrow Station into his sat nav and picked the first one he saw. Did he offer you a choice? Did he even speak?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The Knowledge

            Similarly, my daughter got in to a mini cab (pre booked) and the driver refused to move as she didnt know the postcode of the destination, cue calls to his office and complaints, they said it's standard practice now in mini cabs that they have a postcode for the driver to put in his satnav.

            Not in my days as a mini cab it wasnt. we use a bloody A-Z to help the passenger identify where they wanted to go if they were unsure

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: The Knowledge

          "I got in a minicab recently and asked for Harrow on the Hill station. I got dropped off at North Harrow tube station"

          And if you ask to be taken to the Ritz the hotel thinks you might get accidentally taken about a couple of hundred miles out of your way to Brighouse instead.

          http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/londons-ritz-hotel-orders-namesake-yorkshire-ballroom-to-choose-new-name-after-80-years-a3472671.html

        3. JimboSmith Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: The Knowledge

          Used to get sent a car to pick me up when working unsociable hours in the early morning, I won't name the London car firm concerned but I had some shockers:

          One bloke left the address of my flat in the satnav instead of work and was very surprised when we kept going back to my road. I had to point out the mistake after the second attempt or we could have done that for a while.

          Another headed off and went the wrong way down a one way street and had to slam on the brakes (and quickly reverse) when an HGV appeared (going in the right direction) coming towards us. He said that the sat nav had failed to inform him that it was one way.

          I was once taken a very peculiar route which when I queried he said "it's quicker". I said there wasn't a hope in hell this way was quicker and he then confessed that his sat nav had broken and he only knew this route to get across town.

          One of them had Steve Allen on the radio at full blast and refused to turn it down. I eventually threatened not to sign for the journey at the end and he backed down.

          etc.

          I used to yearn for a black cab to pick me up instead!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The Knowledge

            My one and only experience of UBER was getting a lift with someone else and I was amazed at the service. Bloke showed up fairly quickly but was totally reliant on Sat Nav which worried me a bit especially when we lost the signal in the City of London and attempted to go up a one way street. When I found out that the app requires your location data and that they wanted it continuously I gave up on that idea.

      3. Alumoi

        Re: The Knowledge

        car sharing basically - should be rewarded not penalised.

        Uber is NOT car sharing, it's a freaking taxi company.

        Car sharing = hey, I'm going this way, I can give you a ride if you agree to pay part of the cost.

        Uber = hey, I'm not going this way but if you pay the cost of the ride plus some extra I'll come, pick you up and get you there.

        Did you manage to spot the difference?

      4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: The Knowledge

        "The badges and licences were there to show that your driver wasnt a murderer . I think you could do that with an eBay like feedback system"

        But so few murder victims leave negative feedback.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Pirate

          Re: The Knowledge

          But so few murder victims leave negative feedback.

          "A+ driver, but very bad at killing. Still alive, will not hire again"

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge
            Pirate

            Re: The Knowledge

            "A+ driver, but very bad at killing. Still alive, will not hire again Nobody'll be hiring him again"

        2. montyburns56

          Re: The Knowledge

          "Didn't take me to a quiet lane and murder me. A+++++ Would use again."

      5. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

        Re: The Knowledge

        A++++++ Didn't try to murder me even once. Will use again.

        A++++++ Top bloke. Will use again.

        ....

        F - Tried to murder me

        A+++++++++ Really quick!!! Will us again.

        This driver has a 99.9% positive rating.

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Knowledge

        I'd say the knowledge is completely obsolete these days , along with all the other taxi regulations.

        If that's your opinion you have chosen the wrong El Reg handle :)

      7. AlanC

        Re: The Knowledge

        "If you only know a hotel name you can google it "

        Yes - but that doesn't mean you can navigate there.

        My only experience of Uber so far was in London, trying to get to and later to be picked up from Carting Lane (it's a narrow little dead-end street next to the Savoy Theatre), from somewhere in Covent Garden. The driver who took us there was using Waze (which I normally find excellent myself) but managed to do two laps of the Aldwych and was about to start a third when I told him which lane he needed to be in to get into The Strand. Later in the evening, I called an Uber to pick us up from the same place; the ETA was two minutes but I watched on the map in the app as the driver took wrong turn after wrong turn and eventually found his way to us only after about 10 minutes of meandering around the area. He had about 4 different SatNavs on the go, but still couldn't find us.

        We have done exactly the same thing with black cabs before and they had no difficulty at all finding their way. So, based on this evidence it's clear that a cabbie with the Knowledge is superior to a satnav or even four of them!

      8. Wensleydale Cheese

        Re: The Knowledge

        "The badges and licences were there to show that your driver wasnt a murderer . I think you could do that with an eBay like feedback system these days. "

        To: Uber Feedback

        Subject: The driver you sent to me today was a murderer.

        Looks like there is a market for an iPhone with built in Ouija interface...

      9. Marcus Fil

        Re: The Knowledge

        GPS is 'bad'. Could be terrorist action or space weather - difficult to tell at this time. Since a lot of the mobile network is using GPS to sync its clocks the network is progressively falling over and coverage is patchy with remaining cells becoming overloaded. You need to get to non-descript government office that you have never even heard off to help sort this mess - now, Black Cab or Uber? - your call.

        For a cab driver reversionary skills must include the ability to speak the local language and read a paper A-Z. Trust technology to fail - have a backup plan.

      10. Stork Silver badge

        Re: The Knowledge

        I disagree.

        1) most places in Europe require a different driving license and/or better insurance cover when you provide transport to the public. In my opinion for good reason.

        2) if you fly in for a business trip, you do not realistically check the taxi company beforehand. There is a value in being able to believe that a local licensed taxi (more or less) sticks to minimum standards.

        3) The idea of limiting number of taxi licenses is that drivers can make a living - and that the risk of loosing the privilege of a license helps them behaving. Even as it is, I don't think it is easy money (in most places) and there are already drivers finding "scenic routes" for tourists.

        I am fine with modernising the way you book transport - just don't chuck out the baby with the water.

    2. Steve the Cynic

      Re: The Knowledge

      Birmingham (England, not Alabama) has a Knowledge, too. Back around 2007-2008 I did a number of weekend trips to different parts of the city, and had an interesting time getting cabbies to take me anywhere except between New Street Station and the main hotel strip.

      Eventually, I got a driver who explained it to me. He was an older Irish bloke, and I asked him about the problems I'd been having. He said that yes, there *is* a Knowledge in Birmingham, *but* a lot of the cabbies are [South Asians](*) who just take the exam repeatedly until they learn just enough to be able to pass it.

      (*) He did *NOT* say "South Asians". He used a single word that I won't repeat here because it probably qualifies as a racial slur. It was, however, an accurate assessment of their geocultural background.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Knowledge

        Odd, I've caught may taxis from Birmingham and surrounding areas and never had an issue.

        Unlike London, they are happy to take you 30 miles to a different town, even if they don't have a clue where they are going, so long as you tell them you know the way.

        For some reason in London, they always seemed to have an issue crossing a bridge over a bit of water.

        1. Steve the Cynic

          Re: The Knowledge

          The problem was mostly that *I* don't really know Birmingham at all, and as far as I could tell, neither did they. And that second part didn't surprise the Irish bloke at all.

          "I want to go to X" (something attached to a university *in* Brum)

          "Where's that?" (If I knew that, I'd have come in my own car, idiot, because I enjoy spending extra on train travel exactly >< that much.)

          The Irish bloke, however, knew the city.

    3. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: The Knowledge

      I also beg to differ on the idea that the Knowledge is obsolete. While a satnav (with traffic info) takes the fastest/shortest route, sometimes it helps to know back alleys and back roads that are usually ignored by the sat nav system because a) the taxi is allowed to use bus lanes or has special dispensation to enter areas that your average car is not allowed in, or b) the guy actually knows his stuff and is able to judge traffic much quicker than some analysis program looking at CCTV may be able to.

      Knowing most pubs in the general area helps as well, especially when you are not from the area and you don't know that there are two pubs in the same area with almost identical names. Having the driver go 'which one do you want, mate, the one north or the one south of the river' is at least an indicator of local knowledge.

      Out here in t'country, we have way too many taxi drivers who got their licence and then don't know where major employment campuses are (and don't bother finding out before they start working as drivers). How many taxi drivers in the Science Vale know where the Harwell Campus is? Or the Oxford Science Park? Or the Headington, Wheatley or Botley Campuses? Or Jordan Hill? Or the Abingdon Business and Science Parks? Or Milton Park or Milton House? NOT ENOUGH! We are not here to teach you local geography. You as the driver should know where they are, otherwise you are useless as a taxi driver.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Knowledge

      "Now you could argue that the in-depth knowledge of London's roads is a bit obsolete in these satnav days"

      I would have to disagree with you on that - Satnav is only useful in London at a basic level. It can find you a route from A to B, but not necessarily a good route! A driver well trained in 'the knowledge' will know to take countless cunning back routes which avoid pinch points that satnav, even those fed by traffic data, aren't good at identifying.

      I only remember one case where that didn't go to plan, due to the usual route having been unexpectedly closed by road works, and everyone was on a diversion which the cab got stuck in. The poor driver was extremely apologetic and discounted the fare to half price when we arrived home to make up for the excessive amount of time we had sat stuck in traffic. Betcha an Uber driver wouldn't do that.

  4. IrishFella

    Isn't it funny

    How he uses the word 'livilihood' when his company has been a huge proponent of 'the shared economy'

  5. Martin 47

    I've said it before (and now I'm going to say it again)

    If any business relies on paying people less than minimum wage then it's a crap business

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      RE: I've said it before (and now I'm going to say it again)

      The corollary to that, is that if your business relies on selling something "special" at an inflated price that could be as easily achieved by a smartphone and software,then you my friend are doomed.

      (Does anyone remember that company that got all upset when it turned out you could get an iPad to do what their $5,000 box'o'tricks did ????)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: RE: I've said it before (and now I'm going to say it again)

        The corollary to that, is that if your business relies on selling something "special" at an inflated price that could be as easily achieved by a smartphone and software,then you my friend are doomed.

        OK, but there could be a value add. That said, your argument still holds up because at that point you're no longer just selling the phone + software :)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: OK, but there could be a value add.

          But very often there isn't.

          Case in hand: I was at an exhibition a few years back. It was demonstrating tech to help the visually impaired.

          Almost all the "devices" they were punting - in the thousand of pounds - were essentially (cheap) Android smartphones with some magnifying/contrast software running. Oh - and a stand.

  6. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Please DO GIVE THEM THE TEST

    One of the reasons Germans have much less issues than us with integration is exactly that. You go there to work, well, then the question of "Sprechen sie Deutsch" has a choice of answers of "Ja" and "Ja". It is funny at times - you know the person across is Polish, Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, you talk to him or her their own language, they answer you in German, English if you do not know German and switch to their own language (which you are fluent in) only failing the first two.

    So DO GIVE THEM THE TEST. Things like common language are what makes a country work. You either need everyone to be fluent in it or you need to have more than one official language (with once again everyone being fluent in at least one of them). The more pressure to get there, the merrier.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Please DO GIVE THEM THE TEST

      There are many tech companies in Germany whose official company language is English. All coms, meetings etc are in English.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Please DO GIVE THEM THE TEST

        There are many tech companies in Germany whose official company language is English.

        Correct. That is however limited to only some workplaces. You exit the building and go onto the street and you enter a nearly 100% Germanic world. The taxi driver, the waiter, the shop assistant all speak German regardless where they are from. There is no ifs, no buts, no coconuts.

        1. Truckle The Uncivil

          Re: Please DO GIVE THEM THE TEST

          True. But it is also true that just about all of said taxi drivers, waiters, and shop assistants will also speak english and in many cases be happy for the practise. (Nota Bene: I no longer capitalise the names of languages).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Please DO GIVE THEM THE TEST

      Don't have the slightest issue with that. Of course, British people going to other places also have to at least try the language, not just talk slower and more loudly, or stick just in English-speaking clusters (voting to leave the evil EU while living in it)

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The only way Uber can survive financially is

    ....if it has a total world-wide monopoly....

    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/12/can-uber-ever-deliver-part-four-understanding-that-unregulated-monopoly-was-always-ubers-central-objective.html

  8. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Trollface

    but!

    You all forget that uber is special flower, a bastion of the sharing economy (what's yours is mine and what's mine is mine also...) and as such laws to protect drivers/passengers/anyone that isn't uber should be ignored by us.

    And if uber can't ignore them then they'll be sad and annoyed and throw toys of the of the pram because we should be allowed to do things how we want because we're disruptive like that.

    Maybe one day uber will grow up enough to swallow their pride but I'm not holding my breath

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: but!

      "Maybe one day uber will grow up enough to swallow their pride"

      I doubt pride comes into it; to have pride requires some minimal moral sense of self-worth. Self interest is sufficient explanation for all their actions

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: but!

      "You all forget that uber is special flower, a bastion of the sharing economy (what's yours is mine and what's mine is mine also...) "

      No, no, it's perfectly fair, it's like the pirate captain sharing out the loot with each of the crew in turn. "Gold coin for me silver coin for you....next man"

  9. heliax68

    Only English?

    I had no idea every time I went on holiday to the continent that I was putting my life in such danger. Or is it only when English is the language that can't be spoken that it's so dangerous? Seriously, I've managed for years in Spain with si & grathias, and pointing to my hotel booking, and remained accident free so far.

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Only English?

      Yes. But your driver, being local, could probably read the road signs better than you.

      1. heliax68

        Re: Only English?

        You mean EU road signs? The ones that are the same there as here?

        1. Mephistro Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Only English?

          "The ones that are the same there as here?"

          I think he means the ones that say something like:

          "17 Km. a Orejilla del Sordete

          Obras en la autovía en los próximos 5 Km. - Circule con precaución

          Vendo Volkswagen Polo en buen estado"

          For these, signs, you don't only need to understand the local language, you also need to be a fast reader!

          Regarding your first comment, I'd say that either you were jesting or you are too literally minded. Being the good natured chap I am, I'll go with the first option.:-)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Only English?

            For these, signs, you don't only need to understand the local language, you also need to be a fast reader!

            It gets even worse if they don't even use the same character set. If you're off the tourist areas in Thailand you better have an up to date GPS (or an up to date Thai :) ) in the car or you may be in trouble - the road signs are there but they take far more work to translate into something you can find on a map than you have time for if you're driving..

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Only English?

          "You mean EU road signs? The ones that are the same there as here?"

          I think they're due to be rewritten in Olde English script complete with pictures on pointing hands.

          (OK I do know about Margaret Calvert. And Now Johnston.)

          1. Alien8n Silver badge

            Re: Only English?

            In keeping with current government policy regarding Brexit the new road signs will be designed by Bloody Stupid Johnson

            1. Patrician
              Pint

              Re: Only English?

              Have a pint on me for the Pratchett reference ....

              1. Huw D Silver badge
                Pint

                Re: Only English?

                Have a second pint.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Only English?

            Dammit, New Johnston.

    2. Bucky 2

      Re: Only English?

      Well, the drivers should be able to read road signs and communicate with the passengers.

      If the passengers only speak, say, Swahili, and the driver knows his way around, can read road signs, and speaks Swahili, then I'd say you have a salable service, English or no English.

      I do see the benefit of knowing the local language, but in the case of Uber, they actually could have enough information to match driver and passenger without it. So I don't see it as an ABSOLUTE requirement.

  10. Unep Eurobats
    Flame

    TfL are caving in to the taxi-driver cartel

    This is a blatant attempt at protectionism. The driver knows where you want to go because you entered your destination when you booked. If you want to freestyle/change your mind/get emergency medical help then don't book an Uber in the first place.

    The arguments made on safety grounds are totally spurious and could apply equally in many other situations that have nothing to do with hiring transport. The fact that the hapless but unharmed Aaron Wray is the best example the Sun could come up with indicates that it's unlikely passenger safety is being compromised.

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: TfL are caving in to the taxi-driver cartel

      Ah yes, I'll remember not to use Uber next time I'm planning on having a stroke during my journey.

      Or an epileptic seizures (I get notice of mine, so can ask a driver to stop).

      Or my blood glucose drops and I need to stop for sugar.

      Or are you saying that disabled people should be discriminated against and not allowed to use Uber?

    2. David Neil

      Re: TfL are caving in to the taxi-driver cartel

      "If you want to freestyle/change your mind/get emergency medical help then don't book an Uber in the first place."

      kind of missing the point of medical emergency

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: TfL are caving in to the taxi-driver cartel

      "If you want to freestyle/change your mind/get emergency medical help then don't book an Uber in the first place."

      Excellent advise. Always plan out your unexpected medical emergencies well in advance.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: TfL are caving in to the taxi-driver cartel

      TfL are very good at caving in to cartels / cabals. Just look at the RMT, Aslef, the Department of Transport, the Mayor's Office, the LTDA, or indeed Uber & friends. Not one ever gets "but that does not make sense. Go away and come back when you are making sense."

  11. muddysteve

    Of course they have to speak English.

    How else are they going to tell you who they had in the back of their cab?

  12. Baldy50

    Funny story....

    A lady friend of my mothers had driven on her own all the way to Teulada (Spain) and was not too good health wise and wanted her car back home obviously after her stay, so I drove her home to London, she just couldn't face it, stressed as chuff!

    Got her home safe, no map or sat nav required either, west Londons a busy place.

    Her nephew was a black cabby driver and drove me to Bolton the next day for free! To see family and get a flight back, treated him to a chippy meal, couldn't believe how cheap it was and he got gravy!

    The funny thing is the neighbors noticing it was a London registered cab and the odd driver too on the way, so I felt like an MP for a while.

    As to the English tests, IDK, it would help generally as to integration and work etc but I've never had a problem in the northwest and every foreign cab driver I've have used has been polite and spoken clearly enough to be understood, in the area I live in.

    The thing is, how much is the test going to cost? You have to do a course to be a bouncer, security guard, commercial driver, work at a hospital etc doing shit you've been doing all your working life and been trained for in the first place!

    These costs and licenses are a hidden tax on a lot of poorly paid workers on minimum wage, at the interview stage it should be apparent to the interviewer and the person told to improve his language skills before employment.

    I just think It's all got a bit silly when you did your apprenticeship you learned as much or more from your older colleagues and workmates as you did at college IMO, 33 years claim free and I have to do a CPC test to drive, I have to pay for it too. Sucks!

    With the monitoring tech etc they have in the cabs today IDK why this happened, shouldn't have, the taxi co I did some malware removal for had frequent contact with the drivers and knew where they were, even end of shift and mandatory break times etc!

    Never fall asleep in a cab or on public transport, waking up where you got on is a real p***er, only going from Rüsselsheim to Wiesbaden and went a long, long way off, they let me off for the return fair, though, which was nice of them.

    I could go on forever, but no.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Funny story....

      Umm I think you may have missed the Point, Taxi Drivers already have to pass this sort of test. This new requirement is for the ones like Über who try to Claim there not a taxi Service when they quite clearly are.

      Alos you kind of went off on a bit of a tangent there, apprenticeships and the like dont exist for Taxis, so its not like an Über Driver can learn from other Drivers...

  13. jimdandy
    Trollface

    What's the difference between an amateur and a professional? Not too long ago the answer would have been - Trust. Should Uber (or any other upstart/new paradigm agency) wish to compete on an even playing field with existing service providers then that should be the main focus. Creating trust will allow many good things to happen for those willing and able service providers, new or existing.

    And yet I suspect the roulette wheel of service quality vs cost will eventually overwhelm such mundane considerations. If it's cheap enough, then quality will not matter in this century. After all, rolling the dice may work out well enough to save a few quid.

  14. Aitor 1 Silver badge

    Scam

    This is both discriminatory and nonsense.

    How come they are hired without proper knowledge.. and if it is needed for the job, they maybe everyone should pass a test!

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Scam

      "maybe everyone should pass a test!"

      AIUI everyone else does.

  15. theprimate

    So someone couldn't work out that their 30 minute commute to Brixton had taken a long detour?

    1. Putters

      I suspect the conversation went more like this ...

      "Brixton please"

      "Hokay" - or whatever 1970s-Mind-Your-Language stereotype reply you prefer.

      .

      .

      .

      "Hey, you're on the M4!"

      "Pliz ?" - or whatever 1970s-Mind-Your-Language stereotype reply you prefer.

      "I wanted Brixton"

      "Pliz ?" - or whatever 1970s- ... you get the idea.

      "Take the next exit please - I want to go to Brixton"

      "Pliz ?"

      .

      .

      .

      1. Bill Fresher

        Actually, he wanted to go to Croydon, not Brixton. He was being picked up in Brixton.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          if you want to go to Croydon from Brixton and you end up on a motorway, your driver has issues

          1. David Nash Silver badge

            issues

            "if you want to go to Croydon from Brixton and you end up on a motorway, your driver has issues"

            Yes, that's the entire point!

          2. jbuk1

            Exactly.

            It's one straight road.

      2. Pedigree-Pete
        Thumb Up

        ¿Qué?

        Always worked for Manuel. PP

  16. tiggity Silver badge

    Insuffficient

    Reading & written test probably insufficient.

    Spoken English test would also be needed to show cabbie (Yes Uber, they are cabbies!) could deal with customer communication / handle emergency e.g. make 999 calls etc.

    I can read / write a few Western European languages to a level OK enough for the basics (skills gained via many an hour spent working out the gist of scientific papers not written in English back in the day) but my verbal skills in them are awful, I would struggle massively to make myself understood / understand someone else.

  17. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Holmes

    thoughts just occurred...

    If these drivers have a tenuous grasp of the English tongue *slippy and spit covered as it is* how do they even hold a UK driving licence that should be the barest minimum qualification for being a cabbie, no?

    1. David Nash Silver badge

      Re: thoughts just occurred...

      "the barest minimum qualification for being a cabbie"

      Maybe it is for being a cabbie (I don't know). But Uber drivers are not cabbies. I am sure they can get by if they have an EU or other recognised driving licence.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: thoughts just occurred...

        I am sure they can get by if they have an EU or other recognised driving licence.

        Not if they have a registered UK residence - they must change it to a UK license within a certain amount of time.

        Maybe they have their own back on police racial stereotyping? As they "all look the same" they could basically all share the same license :).

        Joking aside, it's actually a good question. I know in West London there was a long time ago a scam where someone would take the exam for others, but AFAIK that became so well known that the game was up.

        1. Wensleydale Cheese

          Re: thoughts just occurred...

          "Not if they have a registered UK residence - they must change it to a UK license within a certain amount of time.

          But a valid driving licence from many countries can be converted to a UK one without taking a test again.

      2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: thoughts just occurred...

        If they're not cabbies they sure as hell look like them up here in warmest west Yorkshire...(for the record all taxis and private hire have to have a registered number, show credentials and provide other identification when asked by a fare. I've seen these all been carried by uber cabs. Henceforth I shall stick with calling them a cabbie under the duck quacking rules of simplicity. )

  18. andrewj

    You have to be particularly buried in your dumbphone not to notice you're on the way to Bristol instead of Brixton.

  19. martinusher Silver badge

    Its what everyone else does

    Years ago my wife and I caught a bus in some remote part of Holland. As the bus drew up the lady driving it said something to us which we immediately recognized as American. Sure enough, she grew up and worked for years in the US but eventually returned to live in Holland. She told us that the hardest part of getting the license to drive the bus was learning enough Dutch -- it didn't matter that (apparently) everyone in Holland speaks perfect English, if you want to drive a Public Service Vehicle then you get to learn the local lingo.

    I suspect the same goes for just about everywhere else. The only reason why Uber doesn't want this is because their labor pool would include people from the outer fringes of the EU and the Middle East who can only work in the 'informal' economy -- that is, cheaply.

  20. NateGee

    Taxi licensing

    Where I live there was a minor hoo-ha a few years ago because the city council made the taxi licencing tests a bit too difficult (or expensive depending on whose opinion you trust) in the view of some drivers, so they got their licences from a not exactly borough council! outside of the historical county borough instead.

    Perfectly legal, but I still upset a few of them when I tell them which way to go to my destination if I noticed that they've done this ever since one tried to seriously rip me off by taking the scenic route!

  21. bobajob12

    Black cabs are still the way to go in London

    Only in a black cab can you collapse into the back seat, state your destination and enjoy looking out of the window instead of nervously checking your phone's GPS to see if the driver really knows the way.

    Only in a black cab can you say, "there's a pub opposite the office I want to go to, cheshire something, near fleet street" and the driver will know where you are going.

    Only in a black cab can you have a conversation that ranges from the sun to The Sun.

    When Uber and minicab drivers catch up, I'll give them a try. I'm not holding my breath.

  22. G.Y.

    why a _reading/writing_ test, and not oral? I don't usuallycommunicate with a cab driver by paper notes ...

  23. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Sorry, if you want to be a private hire driver you have to comply with the regulations that every other private hire driver has to comply with, it's irrelevant who your radio control centre happens to be.

    "Last August, Transport for London (TfL) told all private-hire vehicle drivers not from a majority English-speaking country to take the reading and writing exam ..."

    Last August? LAST ******G AUGUST???? In Sheffield we required English language literacy since well before 2002 when I was on Licensing.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Ah, here we are, this is when we formalised the English language test instead of the previous informal test, back in 2006. Previously, the oral test was flawed in that the applicant could memorise answers, the updated test became more conversational, challenge and response, and randomised.

  24. Brian Allan 1

    An excellent idea! English in the UK? Who would have thought...

    "It argues that drivers need a basic knowledge of English for safety."

    You darn right they do AND the ability to understand customers!!

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