How long may a taxi or hire car driver work?

Self-employed small business owners are the modern-day outlaws lacking any protection. Unfortunately, employees in the sector are no better off. Does the taxi regulator want to change this?

25 October 2022 by Klaus Meier 

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]


Logo /illustration of the article: Road accident Dotzheimer Str./2.Ring 08.12.13, by Michael Ehresmann auf Flickr, Lizenz CC-BY-NC-ND

When my friend and colleague collapsed at the wheel and died, he had no health insurance, no pension entitlement and no reserves. The turnover of Berlin taxis had been falling for years and he had been working longer and longer hours to make ends meet.

Self-employed = outlawed ?

Small self-employed people in the taxi and hire car industry earn just as little as employees. The following enquiry prompted me to investigate the current status of the legal regulations on working time organisation.

Dear Sir or Madam
I have a question. A self-driving entrepreneur in the taxi or hire car business is not covered by the Working Hours Act, or am I wrong?
How long can the entrepreneur drive his taxi or hire car himself?
Yours sincerely

The answer is derived from several sources.

Limited working hours for employees

Working Hours Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz / ArbZG)

§ 3 Working hours of employees
The working day of employees may not exceed eight hours. It can only be extended to up to ten hours if an average of eight hours per working day is not exceeded within six calendar months or within 24 weeks.

Link to the Working Hours Act (ArbZG)

Unlimited working hours for entrepreneurs ?

The Driving Times Ordinance also applies to entrepreneurs when driving vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 3.5 tonnes or more, or 2.8 tonnes or more in Germany. As taxis rarely weigh more than 2.8 tonnes as passenger cars, the Driving Times Ordinance was and is hardly applicable to taxis.

The Working Hours Act only applies to employees. So as long as working hours in taxis were regulated exclusively by the Working Hours Act, a self-employed taxi driver was allowed to work every day until he dropped dead. As there is no law against suicide, working hours at the wheel were only limited by the self-employed taxi driver’s physical capacity. If an accident occurred, fatigue was and is judged by the courts in a similar way to drunk driving.

Independent drivers

In 2012, an attempt was made to legally limit the excessive working hours of bogus self-employed lorry drivers to a tolerable level. According to reports, the Berlin taxi supervisory authority LABO now wants to include the provisions of this Gesetz zur Regelung der Arbeitszeit von selbständigen Kraftfahrern (KrFArbZG) in the assessment of the reliability of a self-driving taxi operator. The law has already been in force for 10 years, but was previously unknown in the Berlin taxi industry. Since the supervisory authority discovered this text, the KrFArbZG has de facto also applied to self-employed taxi drivers. In terms of content, the authority would have all the arguments on its side, as it is in everyone’s interest not to tolerate overworked and tired drivers at the wheel.

Link to the text of the law regulating the working hours of self-employed drivers (KrFArbZG)

Breaks and working hours

(not enforced)
A comparable regulation of working time applies to self-employed taxi and hire car drivers. Waiting time at the taxi rank is always on-call time within the meaning of the Working Hours Act (ArbZG) and working time within the meaning of the Gesetz zur Regelung der Arbeitszeit von selbständigen Kraftfahrern (KrFArbZG). The reason for this is that the waiting time is not a break time due to its unpredictable duration. This is not literally stated in the law, but results from the definition of a break or ’non-working time’ in combination with the provisions of the Passenger Transport Act and the Berlin Taxi Regulations.

As a result, waiting and on-call times must be counted as working time for both self-employed persons and employees, whereby the latter are entitled to payment of at least the statutory minimum wage.

Unlimited lifetime working time

For decades, ever-decreasing daily turnover has made it almost impossible for taxi drivers to earn pension entitlements above the poverty line. As a result, the shifts became longer and longer.

My old friend wasn’t the only one who was hit hard. I’m thinking in particular of the colleague who got back behind the wheel the same day after each of his seven heart operations. Thanks to minimally invasive surgical technology, this is now possible. It was not good for his well-being.

Taxi drivers, like all low-income earners, suffer from an unlimited working life. Due to a lack of adequate pensions, many colleagues today work to an advanced age until they die at the wheel or are discarded during regular health checks.

A quick internet search promptly brings such fates to light:

Süddeutsche Zeitung: Bavaria - Taxi driver dies at the wheel

Radio Schwaben: Füssen - Taxi driver dies after fainting

Working into old age as a result of poverty pensions can only be ended by introducing a pension for all well above the poverty line.

A practical hint

Dear colleague, if you need support to free yourself from a precarious work situation, I will be happy to support you. You are welcome to call or visit me if you don’t know whether you can achieve anything. We can then find out together what options you have. You can find my telephone number and open counselling appointments on the homepage. All conversations are confidential. I will only talk publicly about your case if you expressly request it.

Yours sincerely,
Klaus Meier

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