By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Government figures released last week confirm what motorists have understood for several years: the roadways are suffocating under the sheer weight of cars, taxis and buses. The National Department of Traffic (Denatran) statistics show that over the last ten years, the number of cars in Brazil has increased 123 percent, while road investment continues to lag a long way behind.
This year, the number of vehicles in Brazil will top 80 million for the first time. Comprising mostly cars, more affordable motorbikes are also taking to the nation’s roads in ever greater numbers.
The much-vaunted growth of the middle class and the increasing use of credit as a means to finance new vehicles over several years is credited with helping the strong domestic market buy its way around the worst of the global economic crisis. Prices might be high even for locally produced vehicles, but a new motorbike can be bought today for as little as R$200 a month.
Last week, the Caixa bank announced that it would be increasing the consortium credit limit for the purchasing of new cars from R$80,000 to R$150,000, opening up the luxury market of makers such as Land Rover and BMW. The BMW i3, released in the second half of 2014, will cost upwards of R$115,000, but payment plans of up to R$2,800 over seventy months will become available under the new terms.
Starting at around R$28,000, the Volkswagen Gol continues to be the best-selling new car in 2013. Figures from the National Federation of Vehicle Distribution (Fenabrave), show that 21,722 Gols were sold in October 2013 compared with 13,131 in the same period in 2003.
All of which is good news for the automobile industry, but it adds a heavy burden on road users with increased congestion. The ongoing battle between the number of cars and the quality of the roads they use continues to cause concern, with poor maintenance and a lack of expansion combining to cause drivers headaches.
In Rio, the demolition of the peripheral road as part of the Port Zone’s renovations caused chaos in downtown Rio in November. Its replacement, the Binario, has been designed to deal with a 27 percent increase in traffic volume in the area.
The highway, begun in the 1960s, was built at a time when the country had less than half a million cars on its roads. Rio’s total number of cars today stands in excess of 5.2 million.
As the UN’s José Marengo stated earlier this year, a country’s progress should not be seen in terms of the population’s ability to buy a car, but rather the availability of an efficient, safe and affordable public transport system.
The impact of public transport measures such as the new BRT bus system has yet to be fully seen as the Barra service fails to meet the needs of the population with hard-to-reach stations and the Metro line is still under construction. According to the Rio de Janeiro Federation of Industry (FIRJAN), those living in the metropolitan area of Rio lose 45 days per year stuck in traffic at a cost to business of R$29 billion.