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For New York Cabdrivers, English is No Longer Required

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Hail a yellow taxi in New York City, and there is a good chance the driver is from another country. Passengers are regularly exposed to a range of languages that span the globe, from Spanish to Bengali to Urdu, reported New York Times.
It can be charming, but also maddening for riders who feel that drivers do not understand where they want to go. Don’t you have to speak English, some wonder, to drive a taxi here?
From now, the answer is no.

That is when new rules went into effect eliminating the requirement that taxi drivers take an English proficiency exam. Now, the test for a taxi license is available in several languages, to accommodate non-English speakers.
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,” David Hernandez, 26, a cook who lives in Queens, said on a recent afternoon, noting that he already had problems communicating with some taxi drivers. “This is an English-speaking country.”

The change, one of several significant revisions to taxi regulations in New York, was approved by the Council in April and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The shift comes as drivers-for-hire in London are facing the opposite demand: a new English test requirement for drivers from non-English-speaking countries.
The elimination of the provision follows another major change in the requirements for becoming a New York City cabdriver: Last year, the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission eliminated most geography questions from the license exam, alarming some veteran riders, who complained that drivers already seemed less familiar with the streets than they once did.

Even in an era of global positioning devices and mapping apps, drivers and passengers often have exchanges over directions, fares and tolls. And there are those who simply want to chat about their day, the weather or even the sorry state of their love lives.
“The new legislation recognized the reality of an industry that has long been supported by the city’s hardworking immigrant community,” Mr. Finan, spokesman for the mayor said in a statement. “We do not want to prevent that community from access to jobs to support themselves and their families.”

Drivers across the industry come from about 167 countries, with among the largest share of taxi drivers coming from Bangladesh (24 percent) and Pakistan (10 percent). Now, only 4 percent are born here, according to the taxi commission.
Read more on nytimes.com.

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Reporter: Denes Osvalt
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