Venezuela's currency has plunged in Thursday's debut of a new exchange rate system aimed at easing the country's crippling economic crisis.

The central bank said the bolivar averaged 170 to the U.S. dollar in the first day of trading on the new market where businesses and individuals can circumvent decade-old currency controls and now legally buy greenbacks. That compares with 6.3 and 12 bolivars per dollar for priority imports and 190 bolivars on the black market.

President Nicolas Maduro is counting on the new currency system to better allocate dollars that have become scarcer as a result of a plunge in oil prices.

But economists say that with fewer dollars overall entering Venezuela shortages will remain widespread and inflation already running at over 60 percent could worsen.