In May, days after the failure of a referendum that would require drivers to submit fingerprints for background checks, the ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft fled the city of Austin. It was a rare instance in which a city (backed by its voters, no less) had chosen not to accommodate the demands of the popular companies with the apparent knowledge that they might depart.
And while attempts to regulate Uber and its ilk have produced laws and ordinances of varying strength in a number of towns, cities, and counties, many responses to the quick uptake of ride-hailing services have focused on making local taxi fleets more competitive. Earlier this week, New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission formally scrapped a longstanding English-language proficiency test for its cabbies in an effort to stem the flow of drivers away from city cabs to app-based alternatives, for which the barrier to entry isn’t as high.
The change also represents an acknowledgement of the shifting demographics of the cab-driving workforce. Citing city data, Emma Fitzsimmons at The New York Times noted that only 4 percent of the city’s cab drivers were born in the United States, “and that figure has been dropping, from about 62 percent in 1980 and 36 percent in 1990.” This ditching of the language requirement is just the latest in a polarizing series of adjustments to new realities, such as the abolishment of a geography test for city taxi drivers—a concession to the rise of GPS.