Above image: a neglected train car on an unfinished subway system in the city of Salvador. The state of Bahia has promised the system will be functional for the 2014 World Cup which begins later this week.
Text and photos by Camila Nobrega
Soccer is still the national passion in Brazil. However, as the country prepares to host the World Cup, the streets that are normally filled with flags supporting the national team are once again flooded with protests. While the country invested large amounts of money into the mega sporting event, critics say it did not do the same for the nation’s mass transit infrastructure.
World Cup host cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Salvador are seeing some of the most dramatic shortcomings. Municipal governments in these cities promised a “Transport Revolution.” In reality, rates were increased without improving services, and the perception among transit riders is that the new infrastructure that was completed was done so to cater to the needs of FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup tournament, and a few private companies who monopolize contracts for transport systems.
These factors triggered major protests that began in June 2013. In addition, transit workers are currently on strike across several Brazilian cities in protest of low salaries and bad working conditions. A video from Friday June 6th captures a standoff between riot police and striking workers.
In Rio, four million trips are made daily on public transport, according to the Municipal Office of Transport. Trains and buses are the main commuting vehicles, but both systems have severe problems. Clara Costa Pereira, a resident of Rio’s neighboring city Duque de Caxias, who works as a maid in downtown Rio. It takes Clara and her husband about two hours to get home, even though her route is only approximately 20 km. She says, “I wait at least half an hour at the train station and face overcrowding every day. I feel my rights are constantly being violated.”
Mazio Neto, who uses a wheelchair, faces significant difficulties moving through Rio’s Central Station which is always overcrowded. “I thought we would have improvements for disabled people. But every day I get squeezed into the train,” he reports.
Licinio Rogerio Machado, a member of Rio de Janeiro’s Forum for Urban Mobility dismisses small gains. “Local government has made improvements, but without taking into consideration the needs and concerns of the population,” he says.
The Rapid Bus Transit (BRT) system is one such improvement. The BRT Transoeste route is already functional and another route from Barra da Tijuca to Galeão Airport will be opened in time for the World Cup.
Residents of the communities, however, were not consulted. The “Dossier on megaevents and human rights violations in Rio de Janeiro 2014[PO],” released by People’s Committee of the World Cup and Olympics last Friday reports that while RS $6.2 billion (US $2.7 billion) was spent on urban mobility, RS $1 billion (US $445.5 million) was spent on forcibly evicting families to make space for the BRT.
This constitutes a violation of civil rights, according to Juciano Rodrigues, a researcher from Metropolis Observatory (IPPUR / UFRJ). “Urban mobility is being completely violated in World Cup host cities. Yes, we can say that improvements were made, but at what cost? The truth is services do not benefit areas most in need of assistance. And evictions will affect a hundred thousand people just in Rio alone, some of them because of transportation projects,” said Rodrigues.
According to Rodrigues, access to transportation is an issue that will affect millions across Brazil. In Salvador, the third most populous city in Brazil with 2.8 million inhabitants, the city’s transportation systems are a significant hindrance to people’s mobility. At major bus terminals like Mussurunga and Lapa, long waits, overcrowding and signs of neglect such as leaks and ill lit walkways are common. When asked about the mechanisms that allow for rider feedback, the City Department of Transportation only answered they have telephone numbers to hear residents’ opinions.
The subway system is something of a punch line in Salvador. “This subway is an urban legend. When I was still in my mother’s belly, 35 years ago, the plan had already been created. With the World Cup, we thought, it’s finally going to happen now! But still, nothing,” said Rebecca Almeida, who sells tapioca, a Bahian delicacy.
The state government announced that the system would open in time for the World Cup. If it opens at all, the initial segment of the system will not be longer than 6 km and will have cost about $1 billion reais (approximately US $438.5 million).
With public transportation so difficult and delayed, more people are buying cars, which in turn increases congestion. Across the country, it takes over 20% of people more than an hour to get home. The Country of the World Cup is far from being the country of mobility.
Camila Nobrega is a journalist based in Rio de Janeiro. She is a contributor to The Guardian’s Global Development Professionals Network in Latin America Affairs and she is the news editor for Canal Ibase, a project of Brazilian NGO Ibase.