Police in the U.S. city of Miami have fined a Spanish-speaking Uber driver $250 for not being able to speak English. Miami is an international city with a diverse population. Spanish is commonly spoken in Miami due to dissidents who fled Cuba to the city when Fidel Castro seized power.
According to police officials, the Uber driver identified as Carmen Hechevarría violated a so-called county law that requires drivers to be able to communicate in English.
Hechevarría was given a $250 ticket by an officer at the Miami International Airport (MIA). The MIA is under the jurisdiction of Miami-Dade County. The officer named Detra Johnson was stationed at MIA to monitor traffic in the area. After seeing Hechevarría dropping some passengers at the airport, Johnson approached her cab and said good morning in English to her.
Hechevarría failed to respond to Johnson’s greetings. Johnson then called a Spanish-speaking colleague to speak to Hechevarría. He then issued her the ticket as a fine for not responding in English.
Johnson wrote explaining why he fined Hechevarría: “She looked at me like she did not understand me. The more he [Spanish-speaking colleague] spoke to her, the more he realized she could not speak or understand English.”
Hechevarría later told local media she felt unfairly treated by the officer because the area she was driving in is made up of multi-cultural people. Particularly in Miami-Dade County, census figures show 73 percent of the population speaks a language other than English at home. “I felt discriminated against,” NBC Miami quoted Hechevarría as saying.
Uber also said it has never required drivers to speak English, saying the English-language app drivers use to communicate with passengers complies with Miami-Dade’s language rule. The company said it was shocked by the incident.
“It says they have to communicate in English. It doesn’t say they have to speak English,” Uber spokesman Javier Correoso said of the county rule.
The fine against Hechevarría was first reported by Telemundo 5. The outlet aired an amateur video showing an airport security officer speaking in Spanish, explaining why he was issuing a ticket to Hechevarría.
A spokeswoman for Miami-Dade’s Transportation Department, Karla Damian explained that the fine against Hechevarría is hardly rare. Miami Herald reports that the airport and Miami Beach have cited about 40 drivers for not meeting county rules regarding English. This means Hechevarría is not the first to have fallen victim of this seemly draconian law.
In May 2016, Miami-Dade commissioners adopted a county legislation, approving the English-language requirement for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies competing with conventional taxis.
Uber said the surge in fines against its drivers is compelling the company to push Miami airport officials to designate a holding area where drivers could wait for hails. This, the company believes, will cut delays in pick-up times to avoid drivers being fined. The company also wants signs at the airport directing passengers to where they should wait for a driver.