By Alfred Rinaldi, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The government in Brazil is to make urban mass transit – and especially metros (subway trains) – a priority with a planned joint investment of R$143 billion, according to an announcement by President Dilma Rousseff this Monday. Speaking on her weekly radio show “Coffee with the President”, Rousseff committed a further R$50 billion to her R$93 billion Urban Mobility Pact, which she had announced in the wake of last year’s social unrest.
More specifically, the President pledged R$33 billion in federal government money to the expansion or creation of metro (subway train) networks in nine Brazilian cities.
Beneficiaries will be Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Salvador, Recife, Fortaleza, Brasília, Curitiba, Porto Alegre and Belo Horizonte (which are all also World Cup host cities.) Government at municipal and state level will contribute a further R$15.5 billion, with additional private investment anticipated.
President Rousseff said, “Our objective is to extend and accelerate the projects, which will result in more comfortable, quicker and far safer public transit at very accessible prices. In this way, we’ll cut back on the time people lose getting around, giving them back some of this precious time of their lives.”
The cost of mass transit as well as its poor level of service was one of the issues which triggered last year’s wave of social unrest. With the recent increase in Rio’s bus fare from R$2.75 to R$3, the cost and inconvenience of commuting in Brazil’s cities remains a sore point with an electorate due to go to the polls later this year.
In recognition of the limitations of travel by road, the government is shifting its emphasis firmly on transit by rail in all its forms. Explaining her decision to go all-out for rail, Rousseff cited its high capacity, speed and safety. With an integrated transport network, it would also be easier to introduce an integrated fare structure which, in turn, should lower fares, said the President.
“For many years, the federal government has not invested in public transit, and especially not in metros. In truth, the federal government has washed its hands of the issue and said, this is not my problem. For my government, this is my problem”, Rousseff stated. “Now we’re marshaling significant resources to invest in mass transit. This makes me proud. Brazil is building metros again.”
The announcement was welcomed by commentators, who nevertheless sound a note of caution. Speaking to The Rio Times, Carlos Caicedo of IHS, a consultancy which provides market and country analysis, said: “We already knew that investment in this sector was coming as outlined in the Growth Acceleration Program, the ambitious plan aimed at addressing Brazil’s infrastructure bottlenecks.”
Caicedo continues, “However, what I think is new is the emphasis Rousseff is putting on urban mobility, as this was one of the main grievances during the June 2013 nationwide protests. It is notable that she mentions nine large cities as the main beneficiaries of this investment, including Rio and São Paulo, where the most disruptive protests took place.”
What remains to be seen, according to Caicedo, is whether the government can deliver the promised improvements quickly enough for a population which is less and less inclined to wait. Especially as bus fare increases are rolled out and existing train systems continue to fail.