At first, the path for Uber in Germany seemed clear. Andreas Scheuer (CSU), the previous federal transport minister, presented a key issues document in 2019 that aimed to redefine the rules of the game for traffic in Germany. The newspaper predicted that, for the first time, pooling services would be able to collect passengers of similar directions on the streets and transport them together, so that rental car drivers such as Uber would no longer have to return to headquarters between journeys. Scheuer himself called his amendment to the Passenger Transport Act “a great opportunity”.
The basic features of this law have existed since the 1960s. In previous years, he has become something of Uber’s last adversary after German courts have repeatedly confirmed the company’s violations following its aggressive market entry.
As Uber’s files show, Uber wanted to enable drivers to take other people with them for money early, without having to buy a license to transport people – as in the classic taxi industry – or having to prove in an exam that they know the road in a given city. In addition, you should delete the fragment that every Uber driver should return to Uber’s headquarters before the next trip. Like taxis, Uber cars should be able to pick up passengers en route. According to the Scheuer key issues paper, this is what should now be fulfilled.
Taxi drivers were concerned about their position in the market
But as soon as the newspaper became public, the taxi associations fell into a storm. Taxi drivers – previously protected against competition by the Passenger Transport Act – were concerned about their market position. And he demonstrated loudly in front of the Federal Ministry of Transport and at the Brandenburg Gate against the plans from Scheuer’s house. “They were ready for a riot,” says a member of the Bundestag who was involved in the negotiations at the time. Upon request, the taxi associations confirmed that they had contacted the Federal Minister of Transport as well as journalists and transport politicians at the federal, state or local level, accompanied the demonstrations and hired a communications agency for around € 100,000.
As a result, a so-called “inquiry commission” was set up with representatives from the federal and state governments – and now not only taxi drivers but also Uber have undergone an upgrade. In the years 2019-2021, when the amendment to the law on passenger transport was passed, meetings and talks were held regularly with representatives of the travel agency lobby, but also with trade unions and associations, which was confirmed by the participants of the Polish Armed Forces search commission. While the taxi associations were more listened to by representatives of the grand coalition, who insisted on social standards in the negotiations and did not want to grant any exceptions to shipping services such as Uber, Uber found allies among FDP representatives in the demand to open the market. But with average success. “Uber wanted total liberalization and has failed miserably,” says the then participant. The liberal negotiators were therefore disappointed with the compromise.
Uber is struggling with a new version of the law
Because on several points important to them, the travel agency and the FDP did not ultimately win. Uber drivers are still required to return to the property upon completion of their trip, and are also not allowed to accept any connecting journeys en route. They are also unable to spontaneously pick up passengers or stand in critical places in the city and wait for customers. However, it is now also possible to name further off-site parking points that drivers can go to.
For this purpose, two other points that Uber fought for have been changed. For the first time, a legal basis has been created for digital travel brokers and shuttle services. In addition, the so-called local knowledge test for Uber taxi drivers. You no longer have to prove that you know Berlin, Munich or Hamburg. On the contrary, even knowledgeable drivers must now always use the navigation system. Uber itself is struggling with a new version of the law: it’s not a major reform. The obligation to return has been maintained, but very restrictive conditions for the creation of subsequent return points mean that in practice this option is not used, it is said on request.
In any case, what matters now is the implementation of legislation in which the federal states and local authorities have a lot of freedom. For example, the obligation to return could be checked by supervisory authorities through random checks of digital logbooks – it is questionable whether there are enough staff for this at all.