CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Ride-sharing apps like Uber, DiDi and Lyft may have traversed much of the world, but they haven’t yet arrived in Venezuela, where U.S. sanctions and years of hyperinflation and… Other misfortunes made it difficult to operate.
So a handful of local entrepreneurs have launched their own ride-sharing apps – and seem to be greeted by customers frustrated by scarce taxis, aging buses and a decrepit metro system.
Department store shopper Maria Arreaza, 39, had long relied on public transport to get to her downtown office and was intrigued by adverts for the new Ridery app, although initially skeptical.
“I said, ‘Well, I’m going to do a test.’ I made a service request and the app looked super cool,” she said. “I kept trying, I asked for more services… (and) then I became a high frequency user.”
So much so that when her mother spent nearly two months hospitalized with COVID-19, she requested at least four trips a day to the hospital and then back home or to work.
Ridery is one of at least three Venezuelan ride-sharing apps that have launched during the pandemic — and which have benefited from a de facto currency shift from the Venezuelan bolivar to the US dollar that has helped curb years of runaway inflation. . The new services set their prices in dollars and allow users to pay with bank cards or transfer services rather than bills.
Public transport across the country is a mix of public and private companies, all of which are in decline. Some of the buses around Caracas are so old they’ve earned nicknames like “The Immortal”, while others have proven too deadly due to lack of parts or maintenance.
Parts of the city’s subway system are often out of service. Meanwhile, fewer taxi ranks are operating around the city after years of hyperinflation and emigration wiped out much of the middle class that frequented them.
Pickpocketing, sweat and noxious fumes are common in street-level and underground transportation.
All also struggle with payment methods, in part due to the scarcity of bolivars. The public system does not accept foreign currencies and private operators cannot easily give people change when the fare is not rounded to the amounts corresponding to dollar bills: quarters, dimes and nickels are not in circulation.
And in a country rife with suspicion and distrust, app-provided information about driver, vehicle, price and route has attracted consumers.
“Everyone told us we were crazy, that no one here was going to get in a car with a stranger, and that’s why we went in with our own investment… see what would happen,” said Gerson Gomez, CEO and co-founder of Ridery, launched in March 2021.
“Delivery apps were already starting to grow in Venezuela. Dollarization had allowed common transactional means of e-commerce, such as credit cards, to be truly accepted in Venezuela, and also…you would hear from many people that the city is a little safer.”
The app now works in 12 cities and sees 400,000 rides per month with 12,000 drivers, according to the company.
Its main competitor, Yummy, which launched in 2020 as a delivery app and later expanded into carpooling, did not respond to an interview request.
Application services are not for everyone, however. The country’s monthly minimum wage is $30. Average monthly salaries in the private sector are less than $100. So even a $3 mile ride can be a big chunk of many budgets.
Gerzon said drivers make an average of more than $700 a month, before expenses like gas and maintenance. He added that he thinks ridesharing and delivery apps help even those who don’t use them.
“If someone who works in your store and makes $50 tells you that they are going to leave because they are going to work in delivery with a motorcycle that a cousin is going to lend them and they are going to make $400 a month , you are forced to raise the salary,” Gerzon said. “I think these apps have helped in the cities, where they’re pushing up wages a bit.”
App rides tend to be cheaper than taxi prices, although so far they haven’t sparked the kind of large-scale protests seen among taxi drivers in other countries.
And some drivers say they haven’t seen the kind of benefits they were hoping for.
After seeing advertisements on social media, William Devia passed the vehicle’s technical inspection and maintenance to become a driver for an application in October. He’s been a taxi driver for 10 years, and since taxis in Caracas are only marked with dome lights — no special paint schemes or additional signage — he figured he could try the app.
A few rides later, 33-year-old Devia determined it wasn’t going to work.
“The customer will always look for the cheapest,” Devia said. “Everyone takes care of their own wallet. It wasn’t profitable because they (the apps) demand a lot – that the car doesn’t have a single scratch – for how little you’re going to earn.”
But for Angel Altuve, the 10 rides he strives for each day help supplement his $30 monthly pension. Altuve was fired from his managerial position after 20 years due to the country’s crisis.
“It depends on the day because there are times when there are only journeys with a minimum fare. It’s a random thing,” explains Alduve, 60. “So in those 10 trips, I might be able to earn $20 with the net profit I have left. But if the services go to more distant locations, I might be able to earn between $45 and $50. “