Can Uber stop at the airport

Online ridesharing - The forbidden waiting area for Uber drivers

Shiny black limousines are parked around the Burger King on Saatwinkler Damm in the north of Berlin-Charlottenburg. Some are lined up like taxis on the side of the road in front of the fast food restaurant - here, in the middle of the industrial area. There is a driver in each car. The men have turned up the music in the car, are playing on their cell phones, and are keeping their elbows out of the window. Wait.

It is relatively easy to find out what they are waiting for. If you order a ride with the UberX service in front of the restaurant using the smartphone app of the online ridesharing service Uber, you will get one of the cars in seconds. You can watch the drivers drive off and stop on the cell phone directly in front of the client. It works once, twice, three times - and is illegal.

For Uber, there are no taxis, but rental cars

Because if you drive for Uber, you are not allowed to set up taxi stands in Germany - not even improvised ones. This is forbidden by the Passenger Transport Act. Instead, what is known as the obligation to return applies. After each assignment, the drivers must return to the company's headquarters. They are not allowed to wait like taxis for customers. A spokeswoman for the responsible Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection confirms this: “Like taxis, rental cars are not allowed to be available anywhere. The purpose of the regulation in the Passenger Transport Act is to protect taxis. "

Because for the UberX service no taxis drive but rental cars. Because the company in Germany is not allowed to broker trips to private drivers as it is in the USA, it uses a legal loophole. Instead of going to private individuals, Uber is now brokering trips to rental car companies through its UberX service. In Berlin it is the RocVin company, which provided the chauffeur service of the German Bundestag with its limousines for years. The company either carries out the Uber orders itself or passes them on to other small businesses, sometimes with just a single rental car.

Rental cars must return to the company's headquarters after each assignment

But chauffeured rental cars are not taxis. They don't have a taximeter and their drivers don't have to take a local knowledge test. In addition, unlike taxis, there is no fixed price. If the demand is high - for example on New Year's Eve - the trip simply costs more money.

And that's why different rules apply: rental cars must return to the company's headquarters "immediately" after each trip, as the law says. An exception applies if a new order is received by telephone while driving. Thomas Mohnke, the boss of RocVin says: “That is almost always the case. The order book at Uber is too good for one of the drivers to come back. "

Drivers wait for customers from Tegel Airport

But why then do drivers waiting in front of the Burger King on Saatwinkler Damm take Uber orders? If you ask the driver, you will always get similar answers. One says he only took a short break. Several said they were next door to refuel. It is an open secret that numerous drivers are waiting around the fast food restaurant for orders from the nearby Tegel Airport. This is what several Uber drivers tell independently of each other.

RocVin boss Mohnke doubts that: “These are individual cases. It's just like driving on the road. If you are allowed to drive 50 kilometers per hour, some still drive 60 or 70 kilometers per hour ”. He is not responsible for himself: “I cannot influence this,” says Mohnke. The drivers have all been instructed and signed in writing to adhere to the obligation to return.

Berlin taxi industry demands: "Same business, same rules"

But the Berlin taxi industry has been raving about its globally expanding competitor from the USA for months. The chairman of the Guild Leszek Nadolski demanded in April: "Same business, same rules". Challengers like Uber would want to enjoy the benefits of local public transport, but have asked to be relieved of onerous duties like the return obligation.

Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi sees it differently. In an interview with “Bild” in June, he called the return obligation for rental cars in Germany “obsolete”: “That seems neither really environmentally friendly nor efficient”. Khosrowshahi does not mention that the obligation to return should not ensure efficiency but rather the competitiveness of the regulated taxi drivers. In front of the Burger King on Saatwinkler Damm, rental cars don't seem to stick to it.

From Ansgar Nehls