Liana Lozada has been using Uber since it debuted in Miami in 2014, but it was only recently that she made note of a problem with the service. Whenever she got into a car with non-Spanish-speaking friends, she was usually the only one who could communicate with the driver.
So she began sticking to English as an experiment — and found that nine times out of ten, there was a language barrier with Uber's Miami drivers.
Lozada, a 30-year-old midtown resident, says there’s a solution so simple “it is almost annoying." Namely, she says, the app should add a language-selection option in Miami. A rider, in other words, should be able to press a button to indicate whether she wants an English- or Spanish-speaking driver. (Uber has experimented with similar language options in other markets.)
She pitched the idea in an open letter to Uber titled “We Have a Language Problem,” which later was posted to Reddit and garnered dozens of comments.
“Uber Miami needs to understand that people are relying on them to get somewhere in one piece, so the channel of communication needs to be wide open,” wrote Lozada, a lifestyle and travel writer who has worked for New Times in the past.
On one hand, she says, the language issue is “100 percent” a First-World problem. But on the other hand, she thinks the language barrier poses a safety risk. During one of her Spanish-free rides, GPS directions told a driver to cross five highway lanes within a few hundred feet to make an exit.
It was enough to convince Lozada to break out her Spanish.
“That was probably one of the scarier situations where the communication gap was kind of pivotal,” she said. “If I were not in the car, would that have been communicated to the driver, or would he have just
gone ahead and made that exit — or attempted to?”
On its website, Uber Miami says all drivers must be able to communicate in the English language. But there's no language test given.
Uber spokesman Javi Correoso said in a statement the company is committed to the safety of all users.
“It’s why we are constantly developing new technologies to ensure safety before, during, and after every ride,” he wrote. “This includes giving riders information about their driver; tracking all trips using GPS from beginning to end; enabling riders to share their route; and incorporating feedback from riders and drivers.”
Users are also asked to rate each driver after a ride, Correoso pointed out, so they can mark down drivers who aren't safe. That information is reviewed by Uber’s safety team, he said.
Some who read Lozada’s letter on Reddit suggested leaving negative reviews for Spanish-only drivers so they’re pushed out of the system. But Lozada said drivers shouldn’t be penalized for their language and argues that Spanish-speaking drivers are greatly needed in Miami. She simply wants riders to be able to choose their preferred language.
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Others used the Reddit threat to spew anti-Spanish sentiment, with one poster suggesting Lozada move to Alabama.
Lozada, whose native language is Spanish, said those kinds of comments distract from the problem at hand.
“It’s not a question of speaking Spanish in Miami,” she says. “It’s more using a service for the masses and not being able to communicate via that service.”