Move Fast and Drop Things: The Rise of Venezuela’s Delivery Sector

A plethora of startups currently involving from 180,000 to 300,000 workers surged as the result of deregulation and created a new role for motorizados in the social imaginary

Venezuela’s car industry is not what it was. The formerly prosper vehicle assembly industry produced just 61 vehicles during 2023, and the automotive park has aged dramatically as acquiring a new vehicle remains too expensive for a large portion of the population. Besides, gasoline has become pricier and is sometimes scarce in regions outside Caracas. 

Meanwhile, the motorcycle industry has been growing steadily. 

According to the Motorcycles Industrialists, Manufacturers and Assemblers Association (AIFEM), the number of bykes assembled by its affiliates has grown from around 1,100 units in 2018 to almost 300,000 in 2023. During 2024’s first quarter alone, they produced 115,600 units. In fact, according to AIFEM, the industry currently generates approximately 3,000 direct and 6,000 indirect jobs.

Motorbike prices are also more accessible than their four-wheeled competitors: they start at $700, depending on the brand, model and specifications. Some companies even offer financing and Buy Now Pay Later apps like Cashea are including motos in their catalog. The costs of buying spare parts, maintenance and fueling are comparatively lower. 

Nonetheless, the convenience of owning a motorcycle for personal use doesn’t fully explain its recent success. It is rather an intersection of startups, new commercial urban oases, a shift in national macroeconomic policies and new roles for motorizados

Fast and versatile

For decades, motorcycles have been fundamental for many jobs in Venezuela. Many people use mototaxis as a means of transportation and a good deal of companies use motorbikers to deliver documents, packages, food and more products as they are more affordable and can get the job done faster by bypassing traffic. However, the partial economic deregulation from 2019 onwards and the COVID-19 pandemic opened new horizons for these vehicles. 

Nowadays there are about 300,000 delivery men, according to the Venezuelan Chamber of E-Commerce (Cavecom-e), a 20% surge from 2023, thanks to the demand caused by lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, and the improved conditions for this kind of purchases through dollarization and fintech. Apps like Ridery, YummyRides and Muévelo not only provide mototaxi services but also allow users to send packages and mandados through its motorizados. PedidosYa and Yummy use motorizados to deliver online food orders. According to a recent study by research and consulting firm Ecoanalítica, almost 20% of Venezuelans use these apps. 

The impact of these delivery companies shouldn’t be underestimated: according to Ecoanalítica’s study, they add $800 million per year to the economy and increase several low income families’ capacity to satisfy their basic needs – directly benefiting 180,000 workers or 6% of the private sector.

This upsurge isn’t surprising if we take into account how lucrative this industry can be. According to Cavecom-e, the average income of a delivery sector worker fluctuates between $400-800 or roughly 3 to 6 times the minimum income (“ingreso mínimo integral”) of a public sector employee. The impact of these delivery companies shouldn’t be underestimated: according to Ecoanalítica’s study, they add $800 million per year to the economy and increase several low income families’ capacity to satisfy their basic needs – directly benefiting 180,000 workers or 6% of the private sector. 

The new motorizados

The surge of delivery companies has also shifted the role of motorizados in the social imaginary. During the height of the crime crisis Venezuela experienced during the last decade, motorbikes were associated with violent motorcycled gangs. Yet, Ecoanalítica’s recent study revealed that 77% of the respondents think that the delivery and mobility companies were key to the change of perception about motorcyclist and the reduction of crime on the streets of Venezuela’s major cities. 

Some motorbike assemblers have also been trying to further position their brands in the public sphere. For example, brands like Bera have marketed some motorcycle models by sponsoring Miss Venezuela and La Vinotinto

Motorbikes have been present during the current presidential campaign. The Maduro government has announced CrediMoto, a special program that will reportedly handle 10,000 credits for motorcycles, and declared motopirueta –a practice where the motorcyclist performs dangerous acrobatics at high speeds– a national sport, causing some controversy. These approaches seem to be an attempt to lure motorizados as a voting block as part of Chavismo’s sector-centered focalized campaign

Yet, the motopiruetas controversy is related to the serious safety concerns that exist in Venezuela about the use of motorcycles. According to data from the Venezuelan watchdog Observatory of Road Safety, between January and May of 2024, 53% of the people that died in road accidents were on a motorbike. April reached the highest per capita proportion (73%) of motorcyclist deaths among the total deaths in road accidents. But, in absolute terms, February was the worst month so far with 64 deaths. The creation of public policies and campaigns regarding road safety for motorcyclists remains critical to reduce this number. 

There are also economic and regulatory risks. For example, in February, the government created a new tax for delivery services and made it mandatory for deliverymen to acquire a one-year only $300 permit. The uproar caused by this policy forced the government to repeal it, yet the possibility of further government encroachment in the sector still is feasible. Similarly, delivery startups have faced occasional protests from delivery workers who could eventually unionize. 

More importantly, Venezuela’s volatile economy creates a series of risks for every industry and the sectors where motorcyclists are thriving are no exception. If consumers’ purchasing power continues to dwindle, the demand for delivery services would also be affected negatively. Similarly, if the government’s economic policy remains hostile to the small and medium size enterprises, the supply of goods in the economy could decrease, and with it the amount of products available for delivery. But, for now, the consumerist oasis in Caracas and other big cities will keep feeding the swarm of backpack-wearing purple and green-clad delivery men.