Commutes in Rio Take 31% Longer

By Leo Byrne, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Commuting to work in Rio and São Paulo takes on average 31 percent longer than in other Brazilian cities, according to a recent report by the IPEA, Institute for Applied Economic Research. In Rio programs like the Bus Rapid System (BRS) lanes and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line are being set up to help, but not fast enough for some.

Commutes in Rio take up to 31% longer than in most other Brazilian cities, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

Commutes in Rio take up to 31 percent longer than in most other Brazilian cities, photo by Leo Byrne.

IPEA analyzed data from 1992 to 2009 and found that the average commute increased in length by five minutes in São Paulo, bringing the total commute time to 43 minutes. In Rio de Janeiro the figure remained at a near constant 42 minutes over the same period.

It means that the two Brazilian cities fare poorly when compared to other metropolitan areas around the world, with commutes being significantly faster in New York, Paris, Tokyo and London.

Although generally from more developed economies, “these metropolitan areas have more efficient public transportation systems including much more extensive subway systems and restrictive measures to reduce car use,” co-author of the study Rafael Pereira told The Rio Times.

The news could be of particular concern for the city of Rio de Janeiro with its creaking infrastructure very much under the microscope as it gears up for the World Cup next year and the Olympic Games in 2016.

“Restrictive measures to reduce car use are fairly important and should be taken in combination with new investments in public transportation systems. Public authorities could consider more seriously the possibility of exclusive lanes for buses for those areas where the subway extension would be too expensive,” Pereira added.

For many every day commuters the news will come as no surprise however. Recent Olympic development notwithstanding, years of under-investment mean that Rio’s metro and bus fleets do not compare very favorably to other infrastructure networks around the world.

Rio metro system, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

Rio’s metro system is significantly less extensive than those in many other cities, photo by Leo Byrne.

Despite beginning operations five years after Rio’s subway system for example, the metro in South Korea’s capital Seoul has eighteen subway lines and 381 stations. This is considerably more extensive than Rio de Janeiro’s two line system with a total of 35 stations. More locally, São Paulo’s metro which was inaugurated around the same time as Rio’s, has nearly twice as many stations.

“I think the transport in Rio is very difficult, especially when it’s raining. For people that take buses and trains, the situation is more problematic, particularly for those in the Zona Norte [North Zone]. The mass transport systems aren’t enough and we now have a bigger quantity of cars,” Douglas Fagundes, an electrical engineer who commutes every day told The Rio Times.

While plans are underway to extend the subway with a new line stretching from Ipanema to Barra da Tijuca, a lack of forethought regarding the General Osório metro station’s ability to expand has necessitated its ten month closure, further compounding transport woes.

With such a limited subway, Rio’s bus system often bears the brunt of the transportation load, accounting for seventy percent of commuter journeys. However a lack of coordination between municipal, state and private agencies can make for a fractured experience.

In 2012 there were 84 bus accidents while a lack of fleet maintenance led to 3,148 breakdowns. “The buses can be really crowded at rush hour and they get pretty hot, especially in the afternoons,” James Flyod an expatriate who commutes everyday told The Rio Times.

Rio’s Secretary for Transportation Carlos Roberto Osório admitted to O Globo that the “situation is difficult,” but was also keen to point out that things were improving.

“The Train, Metro and BRT, this is our backbone. With those, we can reduce the number of buses circulating Rio by a third by 2016. Without investment in transport systems with higher capacity, such mobility problems around Rio will not be solved,” Secretary Osório told O Globo.