Once known for quick and affordable on-demand rides, Uber is now struggling with pricing rides in Lebanon, leading the company to launch a “flex” option.
The new and seemingly only way to book an Uber in the country requires riders to “bid” for their ride. The rider suggests a price and the driver then accepts, rejects or counteroffers, and so on.
Lebanon adopted a new official exchange rate on Feb. 1, marking a massive 90 percent devaluation from its current official rate, which had remained unchanged for 25 years.
The currency fluctuation is so drastic — changing every day or even every hour — that Uber was unable to price a ride fair to the market, said Uptin Saiidi, journalist and content creator, in an Instagram video.
Drivers were calling riders once they booked a ride and then negotiating over the phone before agreeing to pick them up, so Uber launched the “flex” ride so both parties could haggle within the app.
Uber has been criticized in the past for increasing fares in Lebanon, with users calling for its boycott. The ride-sharing app displayed fares in US dollars from its launch in Lebanon until 2021 when it switched to the local currency — but the fares were much more expensive.
“With the economic collapse in Lebanon, and the extinction of USD bank notes and the rendering of bank cards useless, pricing in USD is no longer possible,” Lebanese blogger Gino Raidy wrote in a blog post.
It seemed that Uber chose the 3,900 LL/USD exchange rate “that the governor of Lebanon’s central bank pulled out of somewhere,” which led to fares “increasing significantly, given they were being paid on the ‘official’ exchange rate of around 1,500 LL/USD,” Raidy said.
An Uber spokesperson told Al Arabiya at the time that it had only increased its recommended fares, which had nothing to do with the exchange rate.
Currently, it seems that riders must negotiate or bid to book an Uber. Meanwhile, many are switching to other services such as Bolt, which are cheaper and more efficient.