The Berlin Senate has imposed a fine of 500,000 euros on an illegal driving service. This was announced by the traffic administration on Wednesday. Checks by the State Office for Citizens’ and Regulatory Affairs (Labo) and the Berlin police have uncovered a “particularly serious case of illegal rental car operations,” the statement said.

According to this, the company made more than 100,000 trips with around 160 vehicles between August 2021 and March 2022 without having the necessary approval.

Rental car companies in Berlin carry out trips for the major ride-sharing platforms Uber, Freenow and Bolt. The international mobility start-ups only act legally as digital intermediaries for the booked tours. The journey itself is carried out locally by various service providers.

The provider Uber stated on request that it was affected by the case. “The company in question arranged trips through the general contractor used by Uber,” said a spokesman. After there were indications of the missing licenses, the cooperation was discontinued. “We actively cooperated with the laboratory in this case.” Freenow and Bolt initially did not comment on request. According to Tagesspiegel information, all three major platform operators are affected by the fraud.

The industry has been criticized for a long time. The taxi industry in particular regularly raises serious allegations that the companies do not comply with the legal provisions on the obligation to return and therefore act like taxis – without being bound by their tariffs. Since the industry is less heavily regulated, there is also room for social dumping, is the accusation that is often made.

It has been known for a long time through controls that individual rental cars are traveling in the city without the necessary permit for commercial passenger transport, according to the statement. “According to the previous investigations, this was possible because the companies had submitted false documents to the intermediary services during registration.”

However, the case that has now become known is apparently only the first of a series of cases in which serious abuses in the industry lead to large fines. There is a “series of other procedures” in which the laboratory investigates unauthorized trips. “Further decisions on fines are therefore to be expected,” says the Senate.

According to this, around 4,500 legal rental cars are currently on the road in the city, which can be booked for trips via an app using intermediary services such as Uber, FreeNow or Bolt. There are also about 5800 taxis. Their number has also fallen significantly in recent years due to competition from the driving services.

Users can also see whether a vehicle is from a legal provider. Then there is a white number on a blue background on the lower right corner of the rear window. It has been mandatory since the amendment to the passenger transport law in August 2021.

The traffic administration and the laboratory advise passengers to check the number before starting their journey – and if it is missing, not to get on. If a vehicle is not licensed, the occupants are “regularly not adequately insured against any damage,” says the traffic administration. There is also a risk that the vehicle is not in a proper technical condition.