Uber lost the key part of its UK court case to stop a controversial set of new rules proposed by Transport for London on English language tests for private minicab drivers.

Uber said it will appeal against the decision, which it described as “unfair and disproportionate”.

The US car-hailing company submitted an application for judicial review of four new rules last August – including that drivers must have permanent commercial insurance and pass a written English test – claiming they were too strict and would undermine innovation.

The judge ruled in favour of TfL on the written English language requirements, saying drivers must do more than converse with passengers to be able to communicate in situations such as a medical emergency, and that in the absence of a driver-appropriate English test, this test would be in the public interest, namely the “safety, welfare and convenience of passengers.”

“TfL are entitled to require private hire drivers to demonstrate English language compliance,” said Judge John Mitting.

The judge admitted the ruling would put at least 40,000 cab drivers at risk of being unable to gain a license over the next three years but said this option was the best available and the least restrictive.

Tom Elvidge, general manager of Uber in London, said:

While we are glad the court agreed with us on the other measures TfL tried to impose this is a deeply disappointing outcome for tens of thousands of drivers who will lose their livelihoods because they cannot pass an essay writing test.

We’ve always supported spoken English skills, but writing an essay has nothing to do with communicating with passengers or getting them safely from A to B. Transport for London’s own estimates show that their plans will put more than 33,000 existing private hire drivers out of business. That’s why we intend to appeal this unfair and disproportionate new rule.

Uber did win other parts of the case, meanings its drivers will not need to maintain insurance when they are not driving, and the company will not need to operate a London call centre to field passenger complaints.

The judge also refused TfL permission appeal the ruling with regard to the call centre.

Peter Blake, Transport for London’s director of service operations, said:

The judgment today means that we can ensure that all licensed drivers have the right level of English, which is vital for customer safety.

Earlier this week, Uber argued that up to 33,000 drivers – roughly 28 per cent of those who currently hold a license in London – would lose their licenses if the English language writing and reading requirements were upheld.

“It produces the profoundest of human effects. At one extreme it will lead to loss of livelihood,” said Uber’s lawyer Thomas de la Mare at the High Court in London.

The test includes writing essays of a few hundred words on topics ranging from life on Mars to river pollution.

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