TLC English language test elimination defended by elected officials

Facing service concerns, elected officials on Wednesday stood by a new city law that eliminated English language proficiency tests for prospective taxi drivers.

The test was dropped from the Taxi & Limousine licensing requirements for prospective yellow cabbies on Friday—a change under a new law to institute one universal TLC license.

The intent of the law was to give drivers in a radically changing industry the flexibility to switch between, say, operating a yellow cab and driving for Uber. (Before Friday, there were specific licenses for each industry.)

But Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said “troubling commentary” from passengers has harped on the test and whether non-English speaking taxi drivers would be able to fully serve the riding public.

He pointed out that for-hire drivers, including those for e-hail apps like Uber and Lyft, already operate without taking language exams.

“Driving a taxi or for-hire vehicle has long been a quality job for countless immigrants across the country. … It’s a step into the middle class for many and we should be removing barriers for entry,” said Rodriguez during a joint conference with Bronx Assemb. Victor Pichardo. “The ability or inability to write in English has not been an issue for the tens of thousands of livery and black car drivers who have been providing their services — many of them for more than four decades.”

Only 4% of yellow cab drivers were born in the United States, according to the TLC. The agency said it will still stress the importance of learning English and will be instituting an English language module in its 24-hour driver training classes beginning in 2017.

“We are fortunate to be working with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs to identify options for an education module to add to existing TLC driver education that focuses on English language vocabulary and phrases that are most important in providing customer service,” said TLC spokeswoman Rebecca Harshbarger in a statement.