Washington, Aug 21 (IANS) New York cabbies need no longer be English-speaking under a new rule that came into effect two days ago.
The new rule eliminates the requirement for cab drivers in New York to take an English proficiency exam as the test for a taxi licence is now available in several languages to accommodate non-English-speaking people.
The new rule scrapping the English proficiency exam was introduced on Friday, reported the New York Times.
The sponsors of a City Council bill to remove the English test argued that the requirement was a barrier for would-be drivers from immigrant communities who were looking for work. But the shift has prompted concerns over whether communication between taxi drivers and passengers could become even more difficult.
“If you’re in New York, you must speak English,” said David Hernandez, noting that he already had problems communicating with some taxi drivers.
“This is an English-speaking country,” he said.
Many New Yorkers, however, said they were fine with the change and appreciated the city’s welcoming attitude toward immigrants.
The shift in regulation came as drivers-for-hire in London are facing the opposite demand — a new English test requirement for drivers from non-English-speaking countries — prompting a rebuke by the private car service Uber.
In New York City, Uber drivers have not been required to take the English exam, a disparity officials were seeking to remedy as many yellow taxi drivers have left to work for the app-based service.
Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who sponsored the bill and is himself a former livery driver, said the legislation was intended to level the playing field so yellow-taxi and Uber drivers faced the same licensing requirements. Thousands of people, he said, now drive for companies like Uber and Lyft, another app-based service.
A spokesman for Mayor Austin Finan said the taxi commission and the mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs were developing an educational programme for drivers to teach them industry-specific English. Ending the test would not do harm to the “safe and reliable customer service” in the industry, he said.
“The new legislation recognised the reality of an industry that has long been supported by the city’s hardworking immigrant community,” Finan said in a statement. “We do not want to prevent that community from access to jobs to support themselves and their families.”
Hector Diaz, a legal secretary, said the new regulation could jeopardise passenger safety if a driver did not speak any English.
“If there is an emergency, how are they going to communicate with the passenger,” Diaz said.
Others said they would welcome a quieter trip. Mia Borthwick, 18 and a student, said she did not want drivers to start a conversation with her.
“Uber is bad about that. They always talk to you. I don’t think that’s a requirement of the job. That might actually be better for the passenger,” she said of the new rules.