Is always cheaper than taxi

: Taxi vs. Uber in Berlin: A street fight in Berlin with unfair means?

Rumen Milkow has the taxi driver's eye. When he is out and about in his car in Berlin, he registers very precisely which of his colleagues is waiting for passengers and where. And he also recognizes the drivers who are driving mostly inconspicuous black cars for the competition from Uber. “There is one,” he says, looking at the black Toyota Hybrid. Then Milkow flashes, rolls into the left-turn lane and slowly past the car. A young man sits in the driver's seat and looks at a smartphone that is attached to a holder in the middle of the windshield. “I knew it, an Uber driver,” says Milkow and hits the steering wheel once with the lower right palm. Then he turns the steering wheel and it continues towards the center.

Clevershuttle, Blacklane and Uber

Rumen Milkow is 52, he has been driving taxis in Berlin for 23 years, almost half his life. He gets a minimum wage plus a little vacation pay for driving Berliners, business people and tourists from A to B through the city.

“Taxi war” - this is how the conflict between the taxi industry and Uber has been roughly summed up in the headlines. Taxi war - that means: Uber, the competitor, is entering a market that is already highly competitive. Around 8,000 taxis are registered in Berlin. That's a lot compared to other big cities. There are almost 450 Berliners on a taxi. In Cologne and Dresden, for example, the ratio for passengers is significantly less favorable. And more and more taxis are allowed in Berlin. At the same time, however, the number of so-called rental car services with a driver is also increasing. Behind this are taxi-like services. Because of them, too, Berlin's streets are becoming increasingly crowded.

Almost 2000 rental cars with drivers are on the way in Berlin. There is the transport service provider Clevershuttle, there is the limousine service Blacklane, and there is Uber. Uber will be responsible for the largest share, even if the group does not publish exact figures. Uber is the competition that is most noticeable in the city. Also because the competition is led with hard braces.

Usually it is a Toyota hybrid

Rumen Milkow has been on duty for an hour. He started his shift at 2 p.m. at the Frankfurter Allee taxi stand in Friedrichshain. It's always a very good place, he says. Many passers-by come out of the ring center with full bags and look around for a taxi. Milkow knows when and in which district the day can turn into a good day for taxi drivers. For example, Tegel Airport would be nothing on this Saturday, he says. Friday and Sunday are good days, he says, maybe Thursday. “But there is nothing going on on Saturdays,” he says firmly. So Friedrichshain. He picks up new passengers there twice, then several colleagues line up in front of him in the taxi waiting loop. “Four cars ahead of me, that's too much.” So in the middle. Then he sees the Uber driver.

There is no “Uber” sign on the roof, and there is not even a sticker on the windshield to indicate whether it is actually a rental car. Milkow recognizes them anyway. Usually it is a Toyota Hybrid, he says, black. He has now also memorized the license plates.

“I come across the same car over and over again,” he says. “They are of course very well represented at the airport. They block many places where private vehicles are actually allowed to stop. I often see them in Friedrichshain because I live in Friedrichshain myself. ”And of course they run in all other inner city districts. "Mitte, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg, everywhere within the S-Bahn ring."

One customer per hour instead of two

Since Uber and the others have been in Berlin, Milkow has had a harder time getting the same number of passengers in one day as it was a few years ago. On average, he drives one to two customers an hour. More like one than two lately.

When a passenger gets on, they are completely in their element. He is a small talk artist and is only too happy to talk to original Berliners about the displacement in the Kiez, to quote Nietzsche in the next sentence: "He also increased his salary by driving a taxi." he reads works of the philosopher. And he's had to wait a lot lately. He has identified the culprits: Uber drivers vying for the same passengers.

Uber doesn't have a good reputation in Berlin. Even if a lot of what went wrong is in the past. In 2013, the ride operator in the city started with a model called Uber Black, where professional chauffeur services took over taxi-like rides. Users could book journeys via the app, and drivers who were in the vicinity accepted the orders. However, chauffeur services are not allowed in Berlin to wait for passengers like a taxi on the side of the road. In contrast to taxis, the so-called return obligation applies to them: After a journey, the driver must return to the company headquarters until a new order has been received. The service was banned by a court and the judgment was only confirmed by the Federal Court of Justice in December of last year.

Obligation to return, even with Uber

Uber Pop followed in 2014, where private individuals were referred to as drivers. Senate, taxi industry, lawyers protested: Nobody without a passenger transport license is allowed to take on taxi-like services for money. Uber Pop was also banned. The aggressive strategy of first becoming active and only then clarifying whether this is allowed at all was badly received.

After the defeat, Uber once again changed its business model and name: Since 2016, the new Uber X service has been trying to attract professional drivers who also have to comply with the obligation to return. To do this, Uber works with Rocvin, a chauffeur service that used to drive members of the Bundestag. In addition, Uber uses its own app to refer local taxi drivers who pay a commission for referring passengers to Uber. The group is also currently testing electric bicycles in Berlin with Uber Jump, and electric cars are to follow this year with Uber Green.

Tobias Fröhlich is the spokesman for Uber in Germany. And he is clearly trying to improve the reputation of the billion dollar company in this country. He avoids an aggressive choice of words wherever possible. “We don't plan to replace taxis, we always shake hands,” he says. “We want to be part of the mobility solution and supplement existing public transport, bike sharing and car sharing offers.” He struggles, but he is fighting alone in a wide field. Too much is in trouble. And the voices of the taxi lobby are mostly louder.

Uber driver Volkan Caliskan has been followed by taxi drivers

Uber is constantly violating the obligation to return, and statutory break regulations are not adhered to, says Rolf Feja, deputy head of the Berlin Taxi Guild. You have no problem with competition. But they have to work under the same conditions. And that is not the case. While the taxi guild recently applied to be allowed to increase the tariffs in order to survive economically, the prices of Uber are always slightly below the current taxi tariff. Uber is also not obliged to take passengers. “In the country, in the outskirts? They don't go there. We, on the other hand, have an obligation to transport and fixed prices, that is in danger, ”says Rolf Feja.

Legal offenses are difficult to verify anyway. The State Office for Citizens and Regulatory Affairs is responsible for this. The authorities confirm that complaints about Uber were received there, but controls often did not confirm violations of the obligation to return. But the fight is real. It is carried out on the street every day. Another day. And another car: Uber driver Volkan Caliskan is at the wheel. The smartphone holder is attached to the dashboard. It is a car as Rumen Milkow described it.

“Yes, the taxi drivers recognize us,” says Volkan Caliskan and nods. He's 35 and has been driving for Uber for almost a year and a half. For this he is employed by Rocvin, Uber's main partner in Berlin. He says three times that he has seen a taxi driver purposely follow him. “They then want to prove that we are not complying with the obligation to return,” he says.

Obligation to return is not evident from outside

Volkan Caliskan doesn't just start chatting, he always thinks for a brief moment before answering. But then he says: through the rear-view mirror he saw that he was being filmed with a smartphone by a taxi driver who had lined up directly behind his car. Because he felt pressured, he always drove to the nearest police station. When he stopped there, a taxi driver confronted him in one case. He accused him of driving all over the city and not driving back to the company headquarters as prescribed. "I only did that there because I felt pressured and was looking for a police officer," says Caliskan. “We comply with the obligation to return.” And it is also allowed to pick up a new passenger directly if the order is received during the previous trip. Then Uber drivers don't have to make the return trip first. "That is of course not visible from the outside."

At Rocvin, Caliskan not only takes on journeys, has recently become a kind of team leader, advises on problems with the Uber app and, for example, also checks whether his colleagues are complying with the return obligation.
The headquarters can be used to track which car is where and where it is going. Working past the tax office and not taking break times is therefore impossible, says Caliskan. The app records everything. Yes, he already admits that newer colleagues have to be made aware of the obligation to return one or the other time, but there are no major violations.

Uber sees itself only as an intermediary

Caliskan can only speak for Rocvin, of course. Other rental car companies or drivers who sub-contract Rocvin for Uber are not screened. Many of them are not centrally located in Berlin, but in Nauen or Lübben in Brandenburg. Starting the way back after every trip would hardly be economical. If you ask Uber, the answer is evasive: The group only mediates the orders and is not responsible for violations of the obligation to return.

Caliskan is actually a trained production mechanic and worked for Audi in Heilbronn for seven years. But the job wasn't fulfilling. He wanted to have more to do with people in his daily work. Several of Caliskan's family learned the trade of taxi driver, his uncle is also a taxi driver in Berlin. Then why did he go to Uber and not into the taxi business? "I feel safer with Uber," he says, taps the front of his smartphone and says: "We record everything."

If you want to ride with Uber, you have to register using the associated app. These can then be used to book trips. If you enter the start and destination address, the exact fare is displayed immediately afterwards. You can also see the route the driver is taking on a map.
In principle, the app has all the functions that other taxi apps such as Mytaxi also have. With Uber, for example, small moving cars show in real time where the next vehicles are and how long it takes for a car to pick you up. If you have ordered a car, you will be shown a photo, a name and the license plate number of the Uber driver. However, if a user does not attract attention while driving because they misbehave while drunk, Caliskan can note this in the app after the journey. If bad reviews pile up, Uber will block the passenger. “I don't have that level of security in a taxi,” believes Caliskan. He also doesn't have any cash with him, his car is monitored by GPS.

25 percent per trip goes to Uber

The evaluation mechanism also works the other way around. After the journey, every user is asked to rate the driver - there is a choice of zero to five stars. If you don't give the full five stars, you will be asked: What was the problem? The friendliness, the cleanliness? The driving style or poor local knowledge? Caliskan reveals that if the rating continues to be good, there is also a salary bonus from Rocvin. He is a 4.92-star driver and earns 1,800 euros net per month for a 40-hour week without a bonus. This means that the salary is above the minimum wage.

Uber finances itself through an agency and service commission of 25 percent per trip. Volkan Caliskan can live quite well on the salary. Even if you don't get rich with it. He reveals that many of his colleagues are mini-jobbers, part-time workers. Also many colleagues with a migration background. “Uber makes it easier to get a job, to make a living here. Easier, I think, than the taxi industry. "
Caliskan's passengers are almost always foreign tourists. From the US, from the UK, from anywhere where Uber is much more present. The topics of conversation on the go are therefore often limited. Where is the best club? The next bar?

No tourists get on at Rumen Milkow that day. They are Berliners, newcomers. If you talk to them about them, no one has heard of Uber. So do Uber and the taxi industry have separate audiences?

Not only controversial in Germany

Rumen Milkow does not like to believe in it. “You can see in New York how it has developed.” And he knows exactly how it went there: his wife is American and was a taxi driver herself in the States for a long time. “In the USA, the word taxi has completely disappeared from everyday use. All that's left is, I take an Uber. "

In the USA, too, there has been considerable resistance to the Group's advance for years, as in other countries. Uber is still available in around 600 cities worldwide. In Germany, the Uber app can also be used in Munich, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt am Main in addition to Berlin. In Hamburg, U was available for a short time and was then banned.

With some similarities, the situation in Germany cannot be compared with that in other countries. In the USA, for example, taxi licenses are bought at a high price, the business is structured differently. In Germany, taxis are part of local public transport. This also means that - with a few exceptions - they are not allowed to refuse passengers. They also have a fixed tariff.

"With professional drivers through the city"

It's different with Uber. Uber is usually cheaper, but adjusts prices around peak times. According to Uber spokesman Fröhlich, this price algorithm works like this: If there are few Uber cars in an area, but there is still demand, the price for the trip can be a little higher than at normal times. Drivers who are actually not on duty should be given an incentive to take on the job. Even if the demand is higher due to bad weather, the fare rises, the range is five to 20 percent. During a snow storm in New York in 2013, Uber even calculated almost eight times as much. This is called surge pricing. In Germany, says Fröhlich, the price fluctuations are closer to five, in the rarest cases 20 percent. Here, too, it is said that one has learned from mistakes.

But the allegations remain. Volkan Caliskan chats with taxi drivers from time to time. He can hardly understand their concerns. “We are a completely normal provider. In other industries it also works that there is competition. "

Rumen Milkow would like to chat with an Uber driver. He tried it, hung up a few flyers at Tegel Airport looking for an Uber driver. He just wanted to talk to him. He did not get any feedback. For a few weeks now he has been seeing more advertising from Uber, especially in the subway stations: “With professional drivers through the city” it says. That bothers Rumen Milkow. Because Uber drivers don't have to be trained like taxi drivers. Only a passenger transport license, a so-called P-license, is required to be allowed to work for the company. And it has become easier to get the P-license.

Taxi business is developing slowly

As of August 2017, applicants no longer have to take a local knowledge test. When Milkow got his taxi license in Berlin in 1994, that was part of it. In the test, he had to describe the shortest route between two objects within Berlin with great precision. In theory, a navigation device can do that nowadays. "Anyone who needs a navigation device becomes stupid with orientation," says Rumen Milkow then.

It sometimes seems that the taxi industry is developing in the digital age as rapidly and without consideration for losses as Uber is pushing into the market. Only a few months ago, the card surcharge was abolished in Berlin, which was due if a passenger wanted to pay with a credit card or debit card. But does a centuries-old business have to give way to new mobility service providers?

The German Taxi and Car Rental Association (BZP) says: “We are not opposed to changes. But we also want to show that certain constants are needed in public transport. We drive for everyone and not just for the rich. We drive at fixed rates. With us, the trip on New Year's Eve costs the same as on a sunny Tuesday morning. "

Ten trips per Uber shift

Ultimately, it's a question that taxi drivers and rental car drivers can't figure out among themselves. Rumen Milkow is not satisfied this Saturday. At the end of the day he booked thirteen trips, but didn't even make a turnover of 200 euros.

Overall, the sales development in the taxi industry is currently still stable - the BZP calculated a sales increase of two percent for 2017 across Germany. Novel mobility concepts would therefore threaten the industry less economically than politically. If the market organization and the admission requirements were shaken.
Volkan Caliskan, the Uber man, usually drives around ten trips per shift, more on weekends. In winter, however, there are fewer tourists who want to be chauffeured. During these winter months, Caliskan noticed competition from Berlkönig, the BVG's driving service. Another new player among the transport services, which does not legally fall under “rental car with driver”, but acts as a kind of extended regular service.

Once, says Caliskan, he drove past an Uber hotspot privately, at Salon zur wilden Renate, a techno club in Friedrichshain. He saw no colleagues there, but several Berlkönig cars. The competition also gets competition.