He Guides the Drivers


Klaus Meier
works as a social taxi guide in the Guide Services Participation and Prevention field within the SGE project. He is employed by BALZ (“Berliner Arbeitslosenzentrum evangelischer Kirchenkreise e.V.”), a center for unemployed people run by Protestant parishes in Berlin.

Normally, employers are the ones who post vacant positions with Solidary Basic Income. Taxi driver and all-rounder Klaus Meier created his own position – with a convincing concept.

When the Berlin Senate launched the Solidary Basic Income (“Solidarisches Grundeinkommen,” SGE) project, it defined a system with very different fields of activity within which program participants could find employment: From jobs in daycare centers and at schools to environmental aid and cultural organization, eleven job clusters are sure to have something for everyone. But the taxi industry wasn’t mentioned anywhere. The fact that there is now a social taxi guide in the Guide Services Participation and Prevention field is all thanks to Klaus Meier’s commitment. He drove a taxi in Berlin for the first time in 1985; as an insider, he is well aware of the problems in the industry – and wants to make a change.

Born in West Berlin in 1960, Meier grew up in his father’s photo lab and animation studio, which left its mark. After passing his Abitur school-leaving examination, he worked as a freelancer in every field of TV and documentary film production, in the non-commercial field as well as for private television, initially working part-time alongside his studies, later switching to full-time. When the once ample daily rates for freelancers were reduced, he changed fields: Familiar with computers and the Internet since their early days, in 1992 Meier made the digital realm his professional home as well, dealing with software development and writing the organization software for “FilmFest” spin-off “VideoFest,” which lives on today under the name “transmediale.”

Meier is fluent in three languages, speaks French and English just as well as German, his native tongue, and also knows some Chinese and Portuguese. For him, education was an end in and of itself, as opposed to a career option. “I didn’t study to get a degree but to shape my personality,” he says. “I viewed university as a huge production apparatus, which is where I took my first steps with my own movies, borrowing the university’s equipment.” But he continued to drive a taxi on the side, a job that was still well paid at the time. “Originally, it was supposed to be something that would allow me to feed myself if things weren’t going well – basically to bridge the gap before I launched my new career.”

And at first, things went according to plan. “I drove my first shift in West Berlin in 1985, while I was studying sinology. As an absolute beginner, I earned one hundred and twenty Marks in less than four hours – twice what I paid in rent,” Meier remembers. Something that is inconceivable today; the days in which a taxi driver’s income corresponded to a reasonable skilled worker’s salary are over. Hourly wages of seven, six, five or even less Euros have become the norm. “In Germany, driving a taxi isn’t an officially recognized occupation, which is why there are no recognized occupational diseases, even though taxi drivers develop typical symptoms,” Meier says. “Taxis are increasingly proving to be biographical dead ends.”

Today’s gig economy – which almost always means a professional life dominated by short, poorly paid, individual assignments – is something the taxi sector has been familiar with for a long time. “Nowadays, only getting paid when there happens to be work to do has become very normal in our trade,” says Meier.

“We were the avant-garde when it came to doing away with regular employment contracts.”

Klaus Meier

The taxi drivers’ situation got continuously worse. The number of taxis increased while the demand declined; platforms that help users find rental cars with drivers such as U.S.-based Uber competed with taxis. “Today, if a driver is out there for twelve hours, they can count themselves lucky if they get paid for five to six of them,” Meier says.

The transport political way out of this dilemma? Meier is convinced: Taxis need to be treated as means of public transport, with working conditions and regulations that are subject to precise regulations. “In concrete terms, the BVG needs a taxi division which pays decent hourly wages and provides detailed data on how the industry works at any given time,” says Meier. “Because with regard to economic key figures, the taxi industry is a black hole full of ‘alternative business models.’” From the perspective of financial authorities, the taxi and rental car trade is one of the sectors that are most prone to fraud, along with the catering sector; illicit work is the norm. The introduction of “fiscal taximeters” – devices that record log data and save them on a forgery-proof server – hardly improved things; usable statistics on economic connections within the trade are still lacking. “Nobody seems to be very interested,” says Meier in summary.


Despite his experience in handling soft and hardware and his proven language skills, and even though he has a sound understanding of several programming languages, Meier could not find a job in the IT sector after he reached a certain age. “As a father of small children, I couldn’t work as a freelancer anymore. If I were 35 today, I’d have less problems on the primary labor market,” he tells us. “But people who are older don’t fit the concept of many IT companies and start-ups. In 2018 I submitted more than fifty applications to carefully selected Berlin companies and only received a single response: an invitation to an assessment center for highly specialized programmers, even though I am very obviously better at system architecture than I am at coding.”

And so driving a taxi remained Meier’s day job, until he was forced to give it up for health-related reasons at age 57 and became unemployed. “Driving a taxi caused urological health problems; I was in constant pain. On top of that, the other road users were getting more and more aggressive, I was even attacked physically several times.” Meier certainly had enough time to develop an awareness of the problematic effects of deregulation, of professional standards that have been allowed to slip, and of the destructive impact of exploitative companies such as Uber on the taxi industry. Which made him prick up his ears all the more when he heard that an antidote to existing structures on the labor market was to be tested.

“Ever since I heard Michael Müller, then Mayor of Berlin, talk about the SGE project for the first time, I have been following developments and archiving every newspaper article on the matter,” says Meier. “When the time came to pass and implement the project, I started making phone calls.”

Meier’s idea was to establish an SGE position which would take on the problems taxi drivers face. The concept had matured for ten long years, ever since he had teamed up with business partners to develop a plan for a modern taxi platform, a kind of Uber with social standards. The crucial phase, during which potential bodies were called upon to submit their project suggestions for SGE, only lasted a few weeks. Meier had to find the right association, and already had his sights set on one: BALZ, (“Berliner Arbeitslosenzentrum evangelischer Kirchenkreise e.V.”), a center for unemployed people run by Protestant parishes, based in Moabit.

A perfect fit, as BALZ is not only one of the oldest and most competent facilities that offer advice in this field, it also expanded its range some time ago – in addition to people who are unemployed, the center now looks after the working poor, tackling issues such as precarious employment. And this is precisely what affects many taxi drivers. The chairman of the BALZ board, Frank Steger, invited Meier to attach his concept to the association.


Part of Meier’s project includes finding ways and means to address his target group directly and encouraging taxi drivers to be open to new concepts. In the course of this, he draws upon experiences he gathered in the 1990s: Back then, he worked as an IT consultant for a large Berlin street work agency, where he introduced street workers to the Internet and professional computer work. “That job taught me how social work is organized, what constitutes this work, how to structure it,” he says. “Each team of street workers was responsible for acquiring the funds they needed independently, so that also taught me where I needed to start to get funding, which is crucial for any project.”

This wealth of experience helped Meier bring his vision of a “social taxi guide” to life. Together with BALZ, he edited his plans sufficiently to ensure they would convince the project team during the “expression-of-interest procedure.” As a result, Meier developed an individual profile within the framework of the SGE program’s pre-defined fields of activity, creating a position for himself under the umbrella of the “Guidance Services Participation and Prevention” field. “I cannot emphasize enough how happy I am to be working for BALZ, which fully supports my work on the one hand and on the other allows me to organize that work independently,” he says. “I supplement the BALZ consulting services for unemployed people and people with low income with an approach I learned from the street workers, which is outreach youth work that accepts the youths as they are.”

Meier’s employment contract describes a slew of responsibilities. He finds existing offers of assistance and informs his target group thereof; gathers data and makes it accessible; organizes meetings to exchange experiences; works on the production of tutorials and comic strips; helps develop the concept for an “ethical taxi”; and accompanies all of the above with PR work, including on social networks.


In this context, social taxi guide Meier now goes to taxi ranks throughout the city, armed with flyers and business cards. “I introduce myself as a taxi driver who is interested to hear how my colleagues are doing. I offer to help solve any problems and see how and where I can help by asking purposeful questions.”

A lot of drivers are pleasantly surprised to be asked how they are doing, says Meier. “That’s my key take away: that my colleagues count themselves lucky when anyone is interested in their situation at all.” Taxi drivers face a range of problems. “Many companies have put business models into practice that only work in the first place because they violate laws. There is practically no union organization, and in the eyes of many self-employed drivers, the supervisory authority for taxis is a catastrophe.”

Ample starting points for Meier’s work. He aims to convey knowledge, increase the level of organization, and raise awareness for their situation among drivers. Under COVID conditions, he offers permanent and anonymous consultation sessions by phone: Taxi companies, for example, ask questions on how to deal with authorities; he also supports drivers who are having problems extending their licenses for transport vehicles or have questions on payroll accounting. Social security, working conditions and new opportunities to earn a living are the overarching topics of conversation.

“For the first time in my life, I can plan ahead and don’t have to fight for every cent.”

Klaus Meier

Finally, Klaus Meier can enjoy the benefits of a secure job. Only a handful of years away from retirement age, the SGE position is the first full-time job with a wage agreement he has held in his life. He is no longer subject to the whims of his customers and no longer has to chase after his wages. “But most of all, I can contribute my knowledge and experience at a facility that does good.”

Copy: Katrin Rohnstock / Rohnstock Biografien