A new law that streamlines licensing requirements for different kinds of drivers has done away with the longstanding English proficiency test for taxi drivers, which supporters say will eliminate a barrier to the profession for immigrants, who make up 96% of the 144,000 cabbies in the city.
Drivers must still pass tests on such details as driving rules and where they can pick up passengers.
The end of the English test is also a recognition of how technology has transformed the business. Many drivers now rely on computer navigation programs rather than verbal directions to reach a destination. For-hire drivers for app-based services such as Uber have never had to take an English test.
Critics of the change, including some drivers, say a good command of English is a basic requirement for a job that involves communicating with passengers and reading street signs.
“If you’re going to work in this country serving the population which is majority made up of American citizens that speak English, you probably should learn how to speak English,” said Tanya Crespo, a tourist visiting Manhattan from Newport, North Carolina.
I don’t get irate about Pressing 1 for English. I am not worried that immigrants aren’t going to assimilate. I don’t get mad if I’m in line and the people in front of me are speaking a language I don’t understand. I only complain about Indian customer support when it actually makes customer support more difficult.
But on this? I agree with Crespo. I could favor getting rid of the requirement if it’s determined to be a waste of time and money. But to lower the barrier of entry? For New York Taxis? Because if they’re really interested in lowering barriers, I have some suggestions.
Back in reality, though, the taxi market is very constricted in New York. This may be right or this may be wrong, but it is what it is. We limit the number of taxis we allow on the streets for a variety of reasons, including preventing the oversaturation of the market. In other words, barriers for the sake of barriers. We only want a limited number of suppliers and, by extension, drivers. And if we’re going to limit the number of drivers, after things like bad criminal records and knows the rules of the road, language is a pretty decent requirement.
Most of the time you may not need to be able to communicate with the driver, but sometimes you do. And since the number of drivers on the road is limited anyway, it seems more than reasonable to require for that contingency. “What about markets” simply doesn’t apply here, and an argument about “Would you rather have a driver who can’t speak English or no driver at all?” doesn’t work, when we’re limiting the number of drivers anyway. (As an aside, this also raises questions about immigrants doing “jobs Americans don’t do”… but that’s pretty tangential.
Along these lines, I don’t care about Uber or Lyft. There we are talking about a tradeoff between the number of drivers and the ability to communicate with them easily. A language requirement might lead to less supply, which might be a tradeoff not worth considering. So I’d leave it to them to decide. If enough people get angry about non-English speaking Uber drivers picking them up, then they can revise. If nobody does and they will simply take the availability, then the people have spoken. (Provided, of course, that language requirements don’t transition into a legal zone of “unlawful discrimination.”)Photo by robnguyen01
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