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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.