By Anna Kaiser, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Protests over bus fare increases have turned violent over the last two weeks and are spreading across Brazil. Up to 20,000 mobilized against the hike in São Paulo, and between 5,000 and 10,000 gathered in downtown Rio on Thursday. The demonstrations have also spread to surrounding cities, like Niterói, yesterday.
A clear message from the protests seems to have emerged: the seemingly minuscule fare increase represents a broader issue about the priorities of the Rio city government.
“O Rio pra quem?” (A Rio for whom?) protesters asked, expressing their frustration over the city’s repeated decisions to favor developing tourism, promoting the city’s international image and business, as opposed to serving the people and improving services provided to them.
Frustration in regards to corruption with public transportation has also been growing. Many who consider the current mass transport infrastructure – fraught with frequent accidents and unreliable coverage – inadequate are questioning where all the money from the increasing bus fees is going. For many months, rumors have been circulating about city officials’ affiliations with owners of bus companies.
In an interview with Globo last week, mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, denied there were “conversations between owners of bus companies and the mayor.”
“The table of prices is explicit,” Paes told Globo. “There is the cost of the driver, the car and diesel that is used in the vehicle. This is completely transparent.”
The São Paulo city government, as well as other cities, blame inflation for the price increases. In a press conference on Friday, mayor of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad, told journalists that his office “made an enormous effort for the increase to be as small as possible.”
Haddad explained the new bus fare, which is readjusted below inflation, demands reshuffling R$600 million investments in other areas.
“There is a long way to go to improve transportation. That is going to be made at a negotiating table with dialogue, with clarifications, truth and facts, and not bringing up the idea to just zero the fare and have no one pay for the bus, as if that were possible” in a short time span, Haddad said.
However, the opposition counters that inflation has gone up by 300 percent, and bus fares have gone up by over 800 percent since 1994.
In a city where the minimum salary is less than R$800 per month, an added R$45 a month (compared to bus fares in 2008, if an individual rides the bus twice a day) represents a significant financial burden.
Yesterday, mayor Haddad announced a meeting with protesters from the Free Fare Movement and other public transportation city officials to debate the bus fare increases on Tuesday, June 18th. No such meeting had been scheduled in Rio de Janeiro at the time of writing.
Read more (in Portuguese).
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