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Mupo, language board concerned over Tallinn Bolt drivers' Estonian skills

Taxi rank.
Taxi rank. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A lack of Estonian-language skills on the part of taxi drivers using ride-hailing platforms such as Bolt is a matter for concern in Tallinn, both with the state Language Board (Keeleamet) and the capital's Municipal Police, known by the acronym Mupo.

Bolt says it gets around a dozen complaints a month about one of its drivers' language skills, a figure the company says is a very small proportion of the total, with hundreds of thousands of trips being made by Bolt taxis and their customers per month.

Bolt spokesperson Oscar Rõõm told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Monday that: "In most cases, people are satisfied on all the services and needs provided via the app."

"Everything in the app, from entering the place of departure and destination, to communicating with the driver, can be carried out in Estonian; we also have a function which automatically translates the communication between the driver and the customer into the right language," Rõõm went on.

AK reported of a case from July this year where a Bolt taxi driver was investigated on suspicions of harassment after allegedly trying to entice a teenaged girl into the vehicle.

A Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) investigation established that a communication breakdown had transpired, however – the driver had been looking for a customer who had canceled their order, and was not conversant in English or Russian, in addition to Estonian, AK reported.

The Language Board only instigates checks on the backs of complaints; around one in five of these reaches procedure stage, mostly due to the fact that the driver in question's identity cannot be established.

Ilmar Tomusk, head of the Language Board, told AK that: "There are really those taxi drivers out there who don't speak any of the languages ​​found in our cultural space; some complaints have revealed that they don't know how to use [Bolt's] navigation system. They can get lost in the city, don't know the Roman alphabet, and they don't know how to match up street signs with what the sat nav system is displaying."

Under the terms of the Language Act, a taxi driver is required to know Estonian to B1 in the Common European Framework level, but enforcing this has not proven realistic.

AK reported that one of its own camera crew members was left behind at Bolt's offices after the above report was made; the Bolt taxi driver had not understood a request made in Estonian to wait, and left the location.

The individual later said that he did not know Estonian, adding there was no need to, as a minimal knowledge of English was sufficient, he said – the driver's first language was Russian, AK reported.

Another complication comes when taxi drivers are issued permits in municipalities more lenient than Tallinn, so far as the language requirement goes, including neighboring Maardu.

Mupo does not issue permits to non-Estonian speakers and says it would like other municipalities to follow suit, AK reported.

The previous Reform-SDE-Isamaa administration had last year tried to introduce language tests for taxi drivers nationwide, but this foundered on a lack of consensus.

The Ministry of Education and Research says it is conducting fresh analysis, in order to broaden the scope of the Language Act.

Kätlin Kõverik, chief expert at the ministry, told AK that the matter is being discussed with stakeholders with a view to reaching agreement by next soring.

"In some respects, this will take time, but the goal is to not develop the bill solely in the rarefied atmosphere of the cabinet, but in conjunction with target groups and interest groups, to find a solution that satisfies all interested parties," Kõverik said.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' reporter Hanneli Rudi.

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