Two bus strikes occurring less than a week apart put a severe strain on Rio de Janeiro’s daily commuters. A twenty-four hour strike began on May 8, 2014 and a forty-eight hour one soon followed on May 13, 2014 when workers did not receive the 40% pay increase they demanded. The bus strikes have occurred amidst wage disputes in other sectors, with teachers and the civil police also staging walkouts demanding higher pay.
Almost 440 municipal bus lines serve over four million passengers each day in Rio. During the strikes, over 80% of the city’s fleet of 8,700 buses were not in operation. Furthermore, close to seven hundred buses were damaged by acts of vandalism, halting traffic in different parts of the city. Many relied on taxi and minivan services to get to and from work, while the municipal government added extra trains, metros, and special bus services in an effort to mitigate the situation. Nevertheless, these demonstrations further exacerbated Rio’s existing circulation problems.
Traffic congestion and lengthy travel times are significant issues in Brazil’s second largest metropolis, with the number of cars having increased by 40% in the last decade. Many of the city’s workers reside far outside of the city center in the West or North Zones, and can spend up to three hours each way in traffic. The city changed its transportation planning practices in the 1960s to increase investments prioritizing automobile use over other modes of mass public transit. This lack of foresight has resulted in the failure to keep up with the rate of urbanization and efficiently service its sizable population.
In preparation for its upcoming duties as a mega-events host, Rio is currently undergoing a major transportation overhaul. Though the city is spread across a landscape filled with unique geological features, including mountains, bodies of water, and urban forests, these challenges are not insurmountable. However, the city is behind on many of its promised commitments. The new Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT), set to be completed in time for the 2016 Olympics, will be made up of four lines – Transoeste, Transcarioca, Transolímpica, and Transbrasil. To date, only the TransOeste line has been completed. Costing R$985 million, it stretches fifty-six kilometres from Campo Grande and Santa Cruz to the Barra da Tijuca neighbourhood, reducing travel time in Rio’s West Zone. Yet maintenance issues and accidental deaths have been a cause of concern. Furthermore, traffic jams are still a problem between Barra and the South Zone, which will likely not be alleviated until the metro extension is complete and connected to the BRT line. With six additional new stations, Line 4 of the metro will open in 2016 linking Ipanema in the South Zone to Barra da Tijuca in the West Zone, carrying an expected 300,000 more commuters each day. Efficient urban mobility is a work in progress for Rio. Yet the strikes renewed concerns about the reliability of public services and safety in a city that will host mega events in less than a month.
With an expected influx of 600,000 tourists, do you think Rio will be prepared to host the FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games? Do you think that Rio can handle the transportation influx?
Credit: Images by Caitlin Dixon and linked to sources. Data linked to sources.