In the Berliner Zeitung of 19 May 2020, Lutz Schnedelbach writes about his encounters with taxi drivers in Corona times. The formerly communicative and amusing people have fallen silent. Their efforts to maintain hygiene in the vehicle seem helpless and disorientated to the author.
Dear Mr Schnedelbach,
Thank you for your spotlight on the changes in the lives of Berlin taxi drivers. We are hardly recognised as part of urban society any more. Your text is all the more important.
(...) Nobody can make a living from driving a taxi at the moment. Hourly turnover before corona was around 20 euros, during the lockdown it was barely 5 euros, and now we are slowly approaching the 10 euro mark.
The 2,500 solo self-employed with their own car are holding out a little longer thanks to Corona emergency aid. Many of them will give up as soon as this money runs out, because nobody expects to ever be able to make a decent living from driving a taxi again. This is prevented by the policy of Transport Minister Scheuer, who runs the business of the hire car company Uber.
The employed drivers, around 15,000 men and women, are usually paid a third of their turnover as wages. In times of coronavirus, this barely equates to two euros per hour. Forget the statutory minimum wage, which is only paid by a handful of Berlin taxi companies.
Half of the taxi drivers active during the lockdown are employees who are being cheated out of the minimum wage. They all live on the small incomes of their wives and other family members. Their short-time working allowance, if they receive it at all, is calculated on the basis of their already extremely low wages and "does not make up the difference".
Many drivers fear that their bosses will pocket the short-time working allowance and only pay out the absurdly low sales commission. This is exactly what will happen in some cases.
The predominant feelings I encounter when talking to people at the stop are anger, insecurity, abysmal depression and fear. The colleagues feel abandoned by everyone: From the vehicle manufacturers, from the police, from the taxi regulatory authority, from their bosses, from the media and from politicians anyway.
But the few remaining passengers are all the more important to them, even if they don’t always manage to put on a good face in the face of the evil game.
I fear that honest small taxi companies will fall by the wayside after the corona lockdown, while all those whose business models are based on the unscrupulous illegal exploitation of drivers, the evasion of taxes and social security contributions and, in the worst case, money laundering and other criminal activities, will carry on happily.
We cannot hope for Uber & Co. Compared to the degree of exploitation in this industry, the situation of taxi drivers is almost idyllic.
What to do ?
Tipping, however good it may be, will not solve these problems. But we are currently talking a lot about transport and urban development. Perhaps it could help to make taxis an inexpensive facility for everyone again, travelling as part of the public transport system wherever the underground and the Big Yellow are inconvenient or unprofitable. Then you will once again meet good-humoured taxi drivers who can tell exciting stories.
Link to the article in the Berliner Zeitung: https://www.berliner-zeitung.de/mensch-metropole/berlin-mit-dem-taxi-durch-die-corona-krise-li.83818