By Mira Olson, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The recent attention on Rio’s metro subway system has citizens wondering whether the proposed extension to Barra will be ready in time for the 2016 Olympic Games. Nevertheless, progress is being made and seemingly ahead of schedule; the new Praça General Osório station in Ipanema, scheduled to open in 2010, was inaugurated in last December, a sign that the metro is well on its way to meeting the 2016 target.
“It’s a feasible goal,” states Joubert Flores, Director of Institutional Relations for Metrô Rio. “The only real impediment now is state bureaucracy.” Everything is currently in place apparently, except the federal funds the state needs for the actual construction.
Rio’s metro is state-owned, but since 1997 it has been administered and operated by Metrô Rio. In 2007 the company assumed investment responsibility as well, purchasing 114 cars and constructing the connection between Linha (Line) 1 and Linha 2 and the forthcoming Uruguai and Cidade Nova stations.
Rio won the bid to host the 2016 Olympics under the condition that the city undergo significant infrastructure improvements such as public transportation development, as well as measures to dramatically heighten security. Expansion of the metro system was not specifically listed among these criteria, but is the clear priority for such pre-Olympic investment.
The project to extend metro service to Barra (a key location for Olympic activity) includes six new stations, expanding Linha 1 to the west from General Osório. The new stations will be: Nossa Senhora da Paz, Jardim de Alah, Leblon, Gávea, São Conrado, and Jardim Oceânico. The integrated bus service will continue between Botafogo and Gávea to serve Humaitá and Jardim Botânico and will also be available between Jardim Oceânico and Recreio.
Construction on the section from Barra to Gávea should begin by March 2010. The connecting portion between Gávea and Ipanema is the remaining piece of the puzzle and is entirely in the hands of the government. According to Flores, “It’s just a matter of the federal, state and municipal governments coming to an agreement about funding.”
Recent complaints have been related to the metro expansion currently underway. Crowded cars and problems with air conditioning are certainly no novelty, but the increased intervals between trains and the confusing changes in transfer between Linhas 1 and 2 due to the new direct trajectory from Pavuna to Botafogo have only exacerbated the level of discontent with service.
The source of the confusion is two-fold. First, on weekdays the new Linha 2 no longer passes through the Estácio station, which until December 2009 served as the sole transfer point between Linhas 1 and 2.
Nevertheless, on weekdays after 9PM, weekends and holidays the trains return to their former route and Estácio is used as a transfer point. This will continue until the new Linha 2 station, Cidade Nova, is inaugurated in March 2010.
Second, the extension of Linha 2 to Botafogo means that both lines are using the same track between Central and Botafogo stations. In other words, passengers must now pay more attention to which train they are boarding.
According to José Elisio Costa Netto, Manager of Operations at Metrô Rio, the increase in passenger complaints is positive. “It means the metro has become a patrimony of the city. Citizens don’t want to abandon it; they want to see improvement.”
The metro system currently has 32 trains comprising a total of 182 cars, which transport on average 550,000 passengers per day during the week. Before Metrô Rio took control of operations, only 310,000 passengers per day were using metro service.
With the purchase of the nineteen new trains that will be operating by the end of 2011, the plan is to increase usage to 1,100,000 passengers per day and decrease the interval between trains.