IT MAY NOT raise the level of communication between cabdriver and passenger to scintillating or even pertinent dialogue, but the new D.C. Taxicab Commission is trying to strike a blow for English as the working language of the trade. As most cab riders have found out the hard way, too many of those drivers who deign to speak at all have little or no fluency in English. When these linguistically deficient hackers also are sadly deficient in knowledge of local geography, any similarity between requested and actual destination is purely coincidental and probably overpriced. From now on, the commission will require a screening test for all non-English-speaking applicants for a hacker's license.

The new rule doesn't apply to those drivers who already have licenses but cannot speak English, however. They will continue to frustrate their fares with blank stares, outlandish meanderings and surprise endings -- until attrition does a job. The screening test is supposed to pose brief spoken instructions, similar to those that drivers are expected to field from passengers. Though drivers currently must pass a written test to be licensed, their ability to converse in English has not been tested.

The setting of certain reasonable if not minimal standards such as this is important in weeding out those would-be drivers who shouldn't be out there misdelivering the public and tainting all those hackers in this city who are striving to provide reliable service. This is why the taxi commission was established -- not to be another bureaucracy constantly meeting to rack up stipends but to be a dramatic force for improvement of a troubled industry.