About that county requirement that Uber and Lyft drivers speak English…

Earlier this week, Miami was buzzing over the news that a driver for Uber had been fined $250 at Miami International Airport for violating a county ordinance that all ride-hailing drivers be able to communicate English.

Most of us didn’t even know such an ordinance existed.

Editor’s note: This paragraph has been updated to correct the year of legislation. 

It went into effect in 2016, when the county commission legalized ride-sharing. Although this is the first one to make the news, Uber says it recently found out that the county has issued 40 similar citations.

To many people, such a requirement in multilingual Miami seemed totally absurd.

It’s kind of a moot point. On July 1, the statewide ride-hailing legislation will go into effect, and it has no language requirements. That’s because of a legal term called preemption, in which state legislation overrules any local regulations.

Uber is happy about that.

“We’re very proud of the diversity of the South Florida driver-partner community. South Florida is a very unique and diverse place and we embrace that diversity. We’re not hesitant to stand up for our Spanish-speaking driver partners,” said Javier Correoso, Uber’s public affairs manager for Florida.

The ordinance is vaguely worded, stipulating only that the driver be able to communicate in English. Uber has interpreted that as a fairly basic English requirement – if they can get through the onboarding process in English, that should be enough.

Correoso points out that with the app, which can run in either Spanish or English, a language barrier is usually NBD. If the driver is Spanish-speaking and the rider doesn’t speak Spanish, they can use the app in their own respective languages and get to where they need to be without a problem.

“We have drivers that are deaf or hard of hearing who don’t speak, cannot speak, and communicate via the app,” he says.

But the airport, with endless pickup options (three medians multiplied by how many exit doors?) is another story. Trying to explain in a language not your own where you are, or who you are among the 20 other people waiting at your exact spot can be tough – especially for visitors to Miami.

The solution, Correoso says, is to make the airport pickup process more efficient, not to eliminate an entire category of drivers.

They’ve already been talking with MIA about having a designated pick up spot for the ride-hailing companies and to have more signage directing drivers and riders to the right spot.

  • JJlovesCouture

    Orrr how about requiring drivers in an English speaking country to speak proper english? There is definitely a safety issue there, as sometimes the driver’s gps directions are inaccurate and you cannot communicate with them “turn left here, turn right on biscayne …” etc. Quite frankly im tired of people in Miami not speaking English. Yes it may be diverse but that does not automatically mean unified or socially progressive.

    • Ernie

      Like it or not, we are living in the only county in the United States with an immigrant majority, with 74.8% speakers of a non-English language. (https://datausa.io/profile/geo/miami-dade-county-fl/) I get the English speaking thing from the POV that hospitality is supposed to be the biggest industry here, but so long as white flight continues out of Miami as it has for the past three decades and more folks from countries like Venezuela and Brazil come to Miami looking for new lives, this is our reality.

  • Valerie Schields

    To add to my posting below–I had an Uber driver who was mute. He communicated with writing and it was a pleasant successful trip. I was happy to see a handicapped person have a productive job. My point is–He Made The Effort. The non-English drivers don’t have a handicap as an excuse; it’s just plain lack of caring; they know they don’t have to. Just take a community language class to learn the basics; they are free!

  • Valerie Schields

    The GPS app isn’t foolproof. It always shows my home pickup and drop off
    1/2 – 1 block away from my home. One time the driver stopped down the
    block from my pickup address and called me. He didn’t understand my
    explanation of where I was standing because he didn’t speak English. He
    got frustrated and left. Uber charged me $5 for canceling the trip. I contacted
    Uber and got the $5 back but the point is–if he spoke a little English like
    service workers should do!-there wouldn’t have been a problem. Another
    time, the driver didn’t say my name before I got into the car. I’m not getting into
    a car if the driver hasn’t verified who he picking up. I tried to explain to him
    the standard Uber policy but he didn’t speak English, didn’t care and just drove
    off. This is all on South Beach! And I’m tired of trying to explain to an Uber driver to take a different street than the GPS shows because of the street construction which is all over South Beach. We have service workers in the restaurant, hotel and taxi, uber, lyft jobs. All waiters working in a latin, Turkish, French, Italian restaurant will speak English and usually their native language. That’s called customer service-
    you are catering to the client!! I think about all the visitors to my resort town from
    Canada or Wisconsin or Europe (most Europeans speak English) who come here
    expecting to be able to communicate in English! This isn’t Central or South America, Mexico or Spain. It’s the obligation to learn the basics of the English language when you live and work in an English speaking country. When I travel, I NEVER assume
    that everyone I interact with SHOULD speak my language. It’s on me to communicate. I HATE THE ARROGANCE OF OUR MIAMI LATIN COMMUNITY.
    I know too many of them that have been here 30 years and can’t speak English.
    I’M GOING TO TRY LYFT and see if that company has a different attitude or
    I’ll go back to taking a taxi. Uber’s attitude is NOT tourist nor resident friendly.

    • JJlovesCouture

      Unfortunately, I’d have to say that Lyft is actually worse. 99% of my drivers did not speak english-over a day to day month long period of requesting Lyft for work. Miami is the only place in the United States where you can actually be encouraged to speak a language other than English habitually; whether at home or professionally. And thats without ever learning to speak the native language and its beyond ignorant.

  • M S

    It is not absurd as the driver should know English! That’s the language of this land!
    If you’re going to drive someone around you should be able to communicate in English. I’m bilingual. I wouldn’t want the driver to speak French to me! All this crazy mentality that people like you are pushing is totally Absurd! I was in an UBER when the driver could not communicate in English with the other passenger and I had to step in to translate!!! If I wasn’t there it would have been very frustrating for the passenger having a driver that doesn’t know what he means!!!
    UBER should have then Spanish drivers for Only Spanish speaking! I remember how frustrating it was taking a cab and the driver not understanding English or Spanish!!!
    Drivers should speak English if they’re going to drive “everybody” around or let the Passenger Pick if they want an English speaking or Bilingual –

  • MIA

    Are you serious? No mention of the fact that it is absolutely unsafe for an Uber passenger to not be able to verbally communicate with the driver in case of an emergency or unsafe situation? I understand we live in a diverse city, but the drivers should have to speak basic English in order to safely transport passengers.

    Not all uber users are bilingual locals, many are tourists from out of town who don’t speak Spanish. It’s quite embarrassing that we have a fleet of uber drivers who don’t know any of our roads or a word of English. This is even more problematic because the GPS interfaces on these apps like uber are still hit or miss. Many times they have drivers make wrong turns, or even worse, they recommend insane directions like merging across 5 lanes of 836 in 500 feet to take an exit. If a passenger can’t communicate that this is unsafe, or that the driver made a wrong turn, or that they need medical attention, etc….there’s a major issue.

    • Eileen Appelrouth Farr

      Absolutely agree. Must be able to communicate!