O Globo opens the way to change
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The sixth in a series of articles about Rio de Janeiro buses, “Máquinas mortíferas”, or “Killing machines” published today, reveals why passenger comfort and safety have so long been neglected: “… bus transportation in Rio is still concentrated in few hands”. The paper adds that the bidding for bus concessions that took place three years ago, instead of modernizing one of the city’s worst flaws, simply put new makeup on an already existing system.
Cartels and monopolies are common in Brazil, and are usually well-connected to governments and the media. They’re at the center of the country’s worst problems. And when the difficulties generated by their inherent inefficiency become unbearable, we face the urgent challenge of changing them.
Globo’s previous articles in the series show that:
- Bus contract provisions, such as restrooms for employees and user “regularity, continuity, efficiency, safety, comfort and courtesy”, aren’t fully met.
- Given the scarcity of drivers, because of labor demands in construction in Rio, , companies have reduced job requirements and curtailed training.
- The city has nowhere near enough manpower to check up on buses.
- Driver fines are rarely paid and drivers aren’t held responsible.
- The number of people run over by buses really is increasing.
For cariocas, none of this is new. This article in Veja magazine, in 1997, reveals a subsidy that bus companies are said to have received in Belo Horizonte if they failed to make a profit, a mechanism which could also explain the large number of empty buses in the South Zone, while passengers pile up in the West and North Zones.
The mega-events changed everything. Suddenly, Rio is attracting more tourists, more investment, greater foreign scrutiny — and more executives, foreign and Brazilian (coming home after long periods spent abroad), who bring new expectations with them. Also, economic growth has allowed cariocas to experience greater contact with life in other cities.
When a Rio native returns from a trip abroad, one of his first comments is almost always about public transportation in some foreign city — which seems like a dream.
And thus began a shakeup, which gained force with the tragic gang rape of a foreign student last month, in a van she caught in Copacabana.
Vans are a result of the fact that the transportation system is a cartel. If we had a public transportation system directly run by the city, responsibly; or if we had a public transportation system made up of several concessions, won in a transparent and fully competitive bidding process (according to today’s piece in O Globo, some bidders dropped out three years ago because the process was basically a setup), buses would serve cariocas’ real needs. Vans wouldn’t be necessary. Traffic would be less congested.
This must have been obvious to city administrators for quite some time. But– how to face down the powerful bus and van fleet owners? The city started by way of changes that would be easier to impose, such as the dedicated bus and taxi lanes, the BRSes; and the exclusive roadways for articulated buses, the BRTs.
The gang rape, and those that came to light subsequently, probably served as an excellent excuse to embark on true reform.
Now we know the names of the owners of Rio’s bus fleets, names only whispered in the 1990s and 2000s, because they were kidnapping targets, with their easy access to large quantities of cash.
Public transportation in Rio de Janeiro is just one area among many that demand urgent reform – in the city and the country as a whole. Sadly, reform usually occurs here only after a tragedy or under pressure from newcomers. At least, with today’s piece in O Globo, we can be sure that the wind has at last begun to blow in the passenger’s favor.