MIAMI – An Uber driver was cited $250 in Miami for not speaking English, local officials said Monday.
After dropping off passengers at Miami International Airport, Carmen Hechavarria received a ticket for apparently breaking a county ordinance that says drivers of ride-hailing apps must "be able to communicate in the English language."
Hechavarria, 54, appeared not to understand when an officer greeted her "good morning" on Sunday, according to an incident report from the Miami-Dade county aviation department. She speaks Spanish.
Javi Correoso, an Uber spokesman, said the law doesn't specify drivers should speak the language but only communicate. He said the app allows people to understand one another even if they speak different languages, which is how foreign-language speakers and deaf drivers can sign up.
Considered the capital of Latin America, Miami has the largest population of Cubans outside of Havana and is increasingly welcoming Venezuelan immigrants or asylum seekers. Two out of three people in Miami-Dade County speak Spanish at home, according to census estimates.
The county declared itself bilingual nearly 45 years ago after becoming home to many Cuban exiles fleeing Fidel Castro's regime. The designation was overturned in 1980 but restored in 1993. The state, however, voted to make English the official language in 1988.
The local ordinance mandating drivers should be able to communicate in English went into effect last year. But on July 1, it will be replaced by a state law that doesn't have the language requirement passed in the Florida legislature earlier this year to avoid local governments from regulating ride-sharing companies.
The county has issued citations or warnings to about 40 drivers for the language violation, said Mike Hernandez, spokesman for the mayor of Miami-Dade. Although Hernandez didn't say Hechavarria's fine will be forgiven, he said the mayor's office and the public transportation department have the power to waive citations.
"There is a strong possibility that this administrative fine can be waived," he said.