Transportation chaos in Rio: can any good come of it?

Aguardando o VLT

Waiting for the tram, soon to begin operating

A meeting of the Urban Mobility Forum last night at the Engineers’ Club helped this blogger to start unraveling some mysteries of daily Rio life, with information that still needs checking.

Clique aqui para português

Above all, this post is an invitation to share more data. The lack of official information and mainstream media’s spotty coverage of this topic leaves us in the dark.

This blogger attended the meeting (open to the public) as part of her research on a book about metropolitan Rio de Janeiro. The neighborhoods and cities represented by some 15 participants point up the need for an approach going beyond city limits.

The group spoke about a new independent site, still being tested, developed together with the Associação de Defesa dos Usuários de Transportes no Estado do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro Transportation Passengers’ Defense Association) to create a public transportation complaints data bank. Initially, the aim will be to tally the complaints, and later send them on to responsible secretariats and governance agencies. All present agreed that City Hall’s 1746 site and phone number don’t adequately serve metropolitan area passengers.

Every day two million people leave neighboring cities to work in Rio de Janeiro, according to the Casa Fluminense, which last month presented its Mapa de Desigualdade  (Inequality Map)at an OsteRio debate. “It’s New Year’s Eve every day in the city,” commented Vitor Mihessen, economist and information coordinator at the NGO, which focuses on metropolitan dialogue, data and policy proposals. He was referring to the number of people who crowd into Copacabana to watch the fireworks every December 31.

This blogger has repeatedly asked for interviews with state and city officials about transportation issues, with none granted. This makes it difficult to check information coming from passengers. The transportation sector is ever more opaque to those who would like to know what’s going on. The state’s financial crisis and the Lava Jato investigations have most probably hurt concessions, including construction companies Odebrecht (SuperVia suburban trains and the VLT tram), OAS (Metrô and the VLT), Andrade Gutierrez and Camargo Corrêa (Barcas SA ferries and the VLT) and the employee pension funds of the Bank of Brazil, Petrobras and Caixa Econômica bank (Metrô and the VLT).

Today’s Globo newspaper brought the news that the Metrô, according to the Agetransp regulatory agency, owes the state of Rio R$ 198 million; the company reportedly plans to appeal. According to columnist Lauro Jardim, the Metrô concession’s shareholders are putting up 49% of the business for sale, worth R$ 1.2 billion.

The recent bus line “rationalization”, meant to cut empty buses and thereby reduce traffic, seems to please no one, but we don’t know where it went wrong– if it did (neither do we know how much the complaining is due to normal resistance to change and how much to real problems). Untouched by Lava-Jato, bus companies may be in better financial shape than other Rio transportation concessions. However, they are also what 2013 demonstrators called “black boxes”, since the City Council didn’t go forward with a Bus Inquiry, set up that year so that citizens could have access to information on their real costs and revenues.

Rio transportation is thus an enormous jigsaw puzzle. This is no easy topic in many cities around the world– the issue of profit, or at least, financial viability, tends to be a thorny one when it comes to providing the service of taking people from one place to another. But not even this question is in debate here.

There’s no way to answer the question posed in the title of this post. Information is so scarce that many passengers joke that they’d like to know where this Troncal (Trunk) place is, which we see on so many post-rationalization bus identifiers.

Meanwhile, here’s some information collected yesterday, yet to be checked with other sources (comments and additional information are more than welcome, below):

  • The corporate Bilhete Único card no longer works. Now, company employees who used to enjoy this commuter benefit must pay their own ways.
  • Bus drivers work by number of trips, not hours. This would explain the prevalence of undue speed.
  • There are no more buses between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. in Rio de Janeiro. Even bus drivers are having trouble getting home.
  • Bus companies don’t provide enough buses at rush hour, which would explain inefficient transfers, costly to passengers (the Bilhete Único exceeding the set transfer time limit). To supply the number of buses required by City Hall, companies are said to be running unneeded buses outside of rush hour.

The Forum,  which dialogues with transportation officials and meets every Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the downtown Clube dos Engenheiros, is a welcome discovery, bringing together a variety of localities and life experiences. One Forum member, Guilherme Fonseca, writes on transportation and other urban topics in the blog Diário do Rio.

The Quero meu ônibus de volta (I want my bus back) movement plans a demonstration in front of the City Council building in Cinelândia, April 28 at 6 p.m.

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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Transportation chaos in Rio: can any good come of it?

  1. shotw2arrows says:

    Thank you for the information, Julia. The Forum is a great idea.

    I have watched buses stacked eight deep in both lanes on Copacabana Avenue and wondered how many passengers moved in or out every day. You say, I believe, an army of two million invades every morning and retreats every evening – more than the combined populations of North and South Dakota.

    I have stood claustrophobically packed among working Brazilians, guarding my wallet, from Copa to Zona Norte. But I never took a similar ride, two-hour, from Copa to an outlying district.

    I once took a bus that smoothly accelerated from stops to reach a modest speed then smoothly decelerated at the next stop. Good for bus, good for mileage, safer, and good for passengers. But this was the one and only such bus ride in ten years.

    I have shivered in the depths of winter when the air conditioning was turned on full blast. (Not exactly economical.)

    I have tried to go online to find a bus that would take me from point A to point B. No luck.

    To end the chaos, all that is required is to grant full authority to one person with a clear mind. She or he would need perhaps 20 hardworking assistants. But that person must SEE THE SITUATION FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE PASSENGER. She must, incognito, RIDE THE BUS – preferably during rush hour. He must look through the eyes, and wracked body, of the bus driver. Ideally, she would drive the bus for a few hours and then imagine what it would be like to do that 40 or more hours per week.

    You don’t see this sort of person much among American bus executives and even less among Brazilian.

    I do see a kind of professional pride among most bus drivers. They realize they are providing a necessary service. They try, in their rough way, to help passengers when they can. They not only refrain from running over people; they try to anticipate what idiotic pedestrians are apt to do and make allowance for it. Perhaps even their crazy driving is a way of saying, “I am a human, not a machine.”

    Passengers are generally a good-humored lot, considering what they endure. When I am not sure where to get off, if I can convey my problem to passengers, they usually join in an effort to help.

    No one has ever told passengers and drivers they are urban heroes. Though their endurance and effort, I have the food I eat, the clothes I wear, the services I could not live without.

  2. shotw2arrows says:

    Julia, I don’t want to be silent at a moment when I should speak. I realize the following is not entirely appropriate to the subject of your latest blog entry. It belongs to your “Not a Right Wing Coup” piece. I am posting it here because people tend to ignore older articles. I eagerly await your posts about the current crisis.

    Here is what “pedaladas fiscais” are and how they came to be:

    Congress approved certain social programs (Bolsa Família for instance) and determined the funds needed to operate them. Treasury arranged with banks to send these allocated sums to the programs. To reimburse them, Treasury agreed to make regular payments to these banks.
    Sometimes Treasury was late in making payments. The banks did not immediately stop funding the programs. Banks and Treasury understood that the payments would be made eventually.

    When Treasury delayed making payments, the Treasury books looked a little better than they actually were. The monies that had not been paid out to the banks were still listed as Treasury assets. Still, no one gave much thought to this accounting shuffle until the year 2000.

    In that year, Congress passed a wide-ranging bill to make government finances more transparent and less susceptible to juggling, the Law of Financial Responsibility — Lei de Responsabilidade Fiscal (Lei Complementar 101, de 4 de maio de 2000).
    In transparent language of that bill:

    A responsabilidade na gestão fiscal pressupõe a ação planejada e transparente, em que se previnem riscos e corrigem desvios capazes de afetar o equilíbrio das contas públicas, mediante o cumprimento de metas de resultados entre receitas e despesas e a obediência a limites e condições no que tange a renúncia de receita, geração de despesas com pessoal, da seguridade social e outras, dívidas consolidada e mobiliária, operações de crédito, inclusive por antecipação de receita, concessão de garantia e inscrição em Restos a Pagar.

    Which we translate:
    [Note: if you don’t understand the following, don’t worry. I include it as kind of a joke. Our lawmakers are not masters of the art of writing to make difficult concepts as clear as possible.]

    Responsibility in fiscal management presupposes planned and transparent action, which prevents risks and corrects non-observance of laws that may affect the balance of public accounts, which is accomplished by meeting targets of revenues verses expenditures and by obeying limits and conditions regarding the exclusion of revenue staff costs, social security and other consolidated and securities debt, credit operations, including by advance of revenues, guarantees and registration of outstanding commitments.

    Nevertheless, after 2000, Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula da Silva continued the practices we have outlined. (At least 18 state governments have used similar maneuvers) No one questioned this, because the Law of Financial Responsibility does not SPECIFICALLY forbid delaying payments to bank.

    If you dig down into the Law, however, you find that it DOES prohibit banks from lending money to Treasury. Strictly speaking, Treasure had not received a loan from a bank. But by continuing to fund the social programs without receiving the scheduled reimbursement from Treasury, it could be argued that the banks were effectively lending money to Treasury.

    In 2014, some of the payments from Treasury to bank were delayed, and the banks continued to fund programs. These are the infamous “pedaladas fiscais”.

    When Dilma was running for reelection, she may have thought that a bigger balance in the Treasury would help her chances. Perhaps this is why she didn’t make the payments on time. She could continue her social programs without her balance sheet looking so bad. Since Presidents Cardoso and Lula had done the same, she imagined that in Brazil such a “jeitinho brasileiro” (little Brazilian trick) would pass like a ripple in the rough seas of Brazilian financial practices.

    Had the Brazilian economy taken off like a rocket after the 2014 election, it is difficult to believe that anyone would have looked back at the accounting irregularity. Certainly no one would have dreamed of impeaching Dilma for it.

    Finally, I wish to make clear that the impeachment charges have nothing to do with the Petrobras and other scandals. Dilma may have been complicit in them, and if so she must answer for it. But the impeachment charges concern only the “pedaladas fiscais”.

    My greatest fear is what will happen after Dilma is impeached. The succeeding government, having found a scapegoat for the nation’s ills, will try to stifle further investigation. The nation can’t let that happen, even though it will be weary and yearning for stability.

    • Rio real says:

      Thanks for this! My feeling is that we will just have to keep going, doing the house cleaning and soul-searching. Painful but necessary.

      • shotw2arrows says:

        The Augean Stables were cleaned but where is Hercules? He doesn’t seem to reside in Congress. In this

        http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2016/04/05/brazil-crisis-deepens-as-vp-faces-possible-impeachment/

        we find

        “The Brazilian crisis entered a new and confused phase on Tuesday with the decision by a Supreme Court justice to order Congress to take up the impeachment of Vice President Michel Temer even as lawmakers are deciding whether to impeach President Dilma Rousseff.

        “Justice Marco Aurelio Mello’s ruling is subject to appeal, but the implications are stark.

        “Temer is first in the line of succession and now could be removed from office along with Rousseff, but second in line is the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, who is under indictment for corruption associated with the $2 billion scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras.

        “The third in line for the presidency would be Senate president Renan Calheiros, but he is also implicated in the Petrobras case, which could drive him from office, too, thus opening the door to Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski at the country’s helm.”

        I could see Lewandowski as head of a kind of caretaker or provisional government. Former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso might fulfill that task with honor, if he would accept. Once a legit government is in place, I favor setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) similar to the one in South Africa in the 90’s. That Commission dealt with the aftermath of apartheid. This Commission would deal with the aftermath of corruption. It would have the power to grant partial amnesty to any defendant who would admit guilt and tell all she or he knows.

        I won’t expand for now, but a TRC, properly executed, could be a form of “house cleaning and soul-searching” superior to what is likely to come from a Temer administration.

        Just an idea, thanks. Now to read your latest.

      • Rio real says:

        Nice idea, but not likely. I think things will be much messier, for a long time, both politically and economically. And by the way I think there should be a TRC to address slavery aftermath, too!

      • shotw2arrows says:

        You are very probably correct. A long road is ahead and a happy ending is not certain, even after the 2018 elections. If only Lincoln had not been assassinated he might have been able to bring about some kind of national reconciliation. But people want to forget the past and move on, so the issues associated with slavery have not been resolved to this day.

      • Rio real says:

        More has been done in the US, in this regard, than in Brazil. But both lack a great deal yet. Inequality is at the core of everything in Brazil.

      • shotw2arrows says:

        May things go better in the future. We’ll see.

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