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Should taxi drivers have to take a language test?

Language tests for taxi drivers

Black cab drivers in London have hit out at proposals to introduce English language tests for all taxi drivers in the capital.

Since 2016, Transport for London has made it compulsory for private hire drivers to undertake the English Language Requirement to make sure that drivers have an appropriate understanding of English. This ensures that they can not only communicate with passengers and other road users, but is important for safety and to be able to read directions and instructions.

Last year, TfL redesigned the test to make sure drivers have a fuller understanding of safety, equality and regulatory issues while operating private hire vehicles in the capital. Drivers must now pass a speaking and written test, as well as demonstrate that they understand the regulations involving the operation of PHVs.

There have been suggestions that the test should apply to all taxi drivers in the capital, including Hackney carriage drivers. But any plans to expand the test to include public hire taxis has been strongly opposed by the United Cabbies Group.

The reason for this strong opposition is that in order to become a black cab driver in London, drivers have to undergo extensive training and examination to pass the Knowledge of London test. This rigorous process takes at least 18 months and involves potential drivers having to pass more than 10 oral exams to demonstrate their knowledge of the capital’s intricate roads network.

The UCG argues that this is more thorough and intense than the language test and drivers must have a very good understanding of English in order to earn the Knowledge.

A spokesman for the organisation said: “The UCG strongly opposes the suggestion that taxi drivers should have to undertake the English language test. By completing the KOL, taxi drivers have demonstrated they have a topographical knowledge of London, and a command of the English language.”

It is important for everyone’s safety that taxi drivers, whether they are public hire or private hire, are vetted and have passed all the necessary tests to get behind the wheel.

While both take passengers from one point to another, the nature of their operations are very different and require different skills and checks.

Black cabs can be hailed in the street and are not booked in advance. As well as being licensed by the local authority, they have to have public hire insurance and, as is the case in London, drivers have to prove they have an encyclopedic knowledge of the roads they operate on. They could be flagged down any time and anywhere in London and must be able to use their knowledge to get passengers across the city’s congested streets quickly and safely.

Private hire taxis can only be booked in advance either by phone or app. They are not allowed to pick up passengers in the same way black cabs can, and their private hire insurance is void if a fare has not been booked in advance.

They need a good working knowledge of the streets they work on, but can rely on technology such as sat-navs or bespoke apps associated with the ride-hailing taxi firm they work for.

Black cab drivers are not arguing that they do not need checks – they are saying the additional tests being suggested are not as comprehensive as the Knowledge they have already demonstrated and there is therefore no point in being made to take them.

All information is correct at time of publication. Information provided within this article may have changed over time. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by John Patons Insurance Services or any of its employees.