New taxi drivers will be barred from taking to the road unless they meet strict standards of English and Putonghua. The proposal by the Transport Department - which would make tests compulsory for new drivers and voluntary for existing cabbies - was endorsed yesterday by the Ad Hoc Quality Taxi Services Steering Committee. Details are being finalised and will become effective at the end of the year, senior transport officer Albert Su Yau-on said. The compulsory course for new drivers will last 12.5 hours and cost less than $1,000 per driver. The courses will focus on customer service, basic Putonghua and English, and knowledge about routes, taxi regulations and road safety. Language requirements would include the ability to ask passengers where they wanted to go, an ability to detail fares and suggest alternative routes in traffic jams. Every year, about 6,000 taxi drivers take the Transport Department's conventional written test, which only focuses on route knowledge and taxi regulations. Mr Su said 40,000 existing drivers would be encouraged to improve their standards to meet those of new drivers. Steering committee chairman Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung said taxi drivers wanted to improve standards. He denied the plan was unfair to new drivers. But Taxi Operators' Association chairman Leung Shiu-cheong said many elderly, less educated drivers would be forced out of jobs if they had to take the tests.