By Fiona Hurrell, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A new project aimed at addressing the language barriers in Rio has recently been introduced in the hope of improving communication between foreign tourists and taxi drivers operating in the city. The company behind the program is Meritus Partners, a development group focused on enhancing quality and service within Rio’s hospitality division.

Taxi drivers in Rio have the opportunity to learn English and improve their communication skills with foreign tourists, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Taxi drivers in Rio have the opportunity to learn English and improve their communication skills with foreign tourists, photo by Camila Cociña/Flickr Creative Commons License.

On account of the communication challenges discovered between tourists and Taxi drivers, Meritus Partners designed the course, aptly named, ‘Hey Taxi,’ to instruct drivers on specific English required in transactions with tourists and to encourage a positive interaction between driver and passenger.

The project is managed by Meritus Partners’ founders, Ana Biavatti, a Brazilian national, and her partner Erwan Garnier, a French professional with significant experience in the hospitality industry. His prior projects include the ‘Unusual Boutique Hotel’ in Búzios, considered by Conde Naste to be “the best hotel in South America in 2010.”

Biavatti explains how the concept was formed. “Since May, when I started conducting research with the cab drivers in Rio, I have learned that they have very limited understanding and awareness of their role in the hospitality sector yet they are the host of the city, the first impression of a foreign tourist.”

Having worked closely with the hospitality sector for some time, Biavatti saw the importance in providing taxi drivers with the tools to acquire basic level English that would help them in their dealings with tourists who are unable to communicate in Brazil’s native language.

Project Manager for Hey Taxi, Ana Biavatti is confident that the scheme will pay off, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, News.
Project Manager for Hey Taxi!, Ana Biavatti is confident that the program will improve service, photo provided by Meritus Partners.

Biavatti’s initial research in to peoples’ experience with taxis in Rio was something of a disappointment to her. She admits “Some travel sites report that Rio has the worst taxi service in the world. The rates the users give to the service in Rio are really low in terms of cleanness, cordiality, and knowledge of the itinerary and driving ability.”

Fortunately the program is already proving popular with the taxi drivers of Rio who she says can already foresee the benefit of the course. She explains “They hope that if they offer a good service to a tourist during their stay they will always call the same cab driver. And if they offer a good service to expats who live here, they hope to be called again and promoted into the expat network.”

The ‘Hey Taxi!’ course has been carefully designed with the driver and passenger in mind as well as taking into account the driver’s time constraints and affordability. “We hope to get accreditation with the Ministry of Education, support within the Ministry of Tourism and be able to offer a certification recognized by public institutions. As well as that, we hope to have a seal (displayed on the taxi window) which would identify the drivers that speak English” adds Biavatti.

With the groundwork already laid, Biavatti and Meritus Partners look forward to ‘Hey Taxi!’ gathering momentum, admitting, “We are just starting and so far it has been very positive. We hope soon we will have at least one hundred taxi drivers finishing the course every three months. Then, all will depend on our capacity to meet the demand. Wish us good luck!”


  1. Who are the classroom teachers of this course?
    The course is three months, but if so, how often do classes meet?
    Does the teacher have to be bilingual, and give instructions in
    Portuguese and English?

    I am a teacher in Beverly Hills. I’ve spent 3 summers in Copacabana.
    I found that the escolas de idiomas are on Winter Break during my Summer break. I’d love to teach a course like this from June – August of each year.

  2. I’m an English teacher. I’d like to get some information about this English course for taxi drivers. I need to prepare some to the next world cup.
    Is it finished? How much is it?
    How long ?

  3. I lived in Rio for 6 years and speaking fluent Portuguese, and even basic Portuguese when I first moved there, I had few complaints about taxi drivers in all my time living there. How about a course for expats and foreigners to teach them how to speak some basic portuguese instead of expecting that cab drivers in Brasil learn English? Especially considering that most people who drive cabs for a living are those who went to public schools in Brasil and weren’t afforded the luxuries of private school primary and secondary educations that teach English as a required course, schooling that is reserved for a specific echiland of upper class Brasilians who can pay for better education. It’s a pity to still see how the first world expects other countries to speak their language and do things in a manner that neglects to take local customs into consideration.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

three × 4 =