NEW YORK (TIP): People who hope to drive New York City’s famous yellow cabs must pass tests on such details as driving rules and where they can pick up passengers. But gone are the days when it was necessary to have proficiency in English.
A new law that streamlines licensing requirements for different kind 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 per cent of the 144,000 cabbies in the city.
It’s 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, for example, never had to take an English test.
But critics, including some drivers, are giving a side-eye to the idea that a good command of English is no longer considered 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, who was visiting Manhattan from Newport, North Carolina.
Kathy Amato, a tourist from Baltimore, said she wouldn’t ride in a taxi with a driver who couldn’t speak her language.
“They should speak English because we’re in New York City,” she said.
New York City’s taxi and for-hire drivers are already an international bunch, hailing from 167 countries, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which currently offers its licensing tests in English, Spanish, Bengali and Urdu.
Hacks formerly went through one of two licensing processes, depending on what class of car they drove.
One was for the yellow cabs that passengers can hail on the street. Drivers of those vehicles, which mostly operate in Manhattan and at the airports, had to take an education course and an English proficiency test.
The other licensing process covered drivers of for-hire cars, the dominant form of taxi in the “outer boroughs” of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.
Those rides are dispatched by telephone, or, in recent years, by mobile phone app. For those drivers, an English test wasn’t required.
Drivers for the different types of cars not only took different types of tests, but they also tended to come from different countries.
Among yellow cab drivers, 24 per cent were born in Bangladesh, 10 per cent in Pakistan and 8 per cent in India, according to city statistics. English is widely spoken as a second language in all three places, all formerly part of the British Empire.
But among the traditional for-hire livery car drivers, 50 per cent were born in the Dominican Republic, where people speak Spanish.