By Maria Lopez Conde, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The city of Rio de Janeiro launched a program aimed at monitoring the behavior and conduct of the bus drivers that navigate Rio’s streets, according to a statement released last Friday. This measure comes in the midst of a recent uptick of accidents and deaths caused by buses in the city.
The Monitoring and Control of Bus Drivers’ Conduct program’s objective is to optimize and monitor the performance of drivers, as well as to ensure the safety of its users, often subject to vehicles that do not obey the rules of the road.
In the month of April, eleven people were killed and at least seventy were injured in accidents involving city buses. The deadliest incident occurred on April 2nd, when a bus fell ten meters from the Brigadeiro Trompowski overpass onto Avenida Brasil in downtown Rio, killing eight and injuring nine.
Most recently, on April 30th, a cyclist died after he was hit by a bus that had received nineteen tickets in the last two years. The cyclist’s death sparked widespread outrage among the city’s bikers and further highlighted problems with mass transportation in Rio, a city currently grappling with enhancing safety on its public transportation ahead of the upcoming international sports events it is set to host.
Vehicles that travel above the speed limit and refuse to halt at designated bus stops are often the bane of those that ride the city’s buses on a regular basis. Kristin Menzel, a German national who lives in Leblon, often commutes by bus to her office in Centro.
“Actually, I feel safe on buses […] what makes me feel unsafe are usually not the people, just the driving style of the motoristas (drivers), especially when you are still paying and he speeds or brakes, and you almost fly around the bus,” Menzel explained.
Data from Rio de Janeiro’s State Department of Transit (DETRAN-RJ) show that in the first three months of 2013, the city’s entire fleet of 33,980 buses and mini-buses received a total of 51,888 fines. This comes to about 577 tickets per bus, or a penalty every two and a half minutes, according to O Globo calculations.
The most common infractions include driving outside of bus lanes, speeding, crossing red lights, disobeying transit authorities and failing to stop at bus stops. However, few are punished because bus lines, operated by different concessionaires, do not reveal the identity of the drivers who break traffic laws.
The new measure forces the concessionaires that employ the city’s 18,000 bus drivers to impose a training and “recycling” program to educate drivers and get rid of those who break traffic laws repeatedly.
“[Concessionaires] had a black box that protected the identity of drivers and that is absurd. They have to be punished and the professionals need to step out of the shadows. This measure is not just a result of what happened to a cyclist; it’s happening because we are seeing a great number of accidents involving buses in the city,” Mayor Paes said.
Companies that operate buses in Rio will have thirty days to implement the training and recycling programs, as well as a control system that will report traffic infractions committed by bus and driver. Concessionaires who fail to follow orders might lose their contracts and drivers who break traffic laws repeatedly will be dismissed. The city has pledged to increase traffic auditors for buses from 40 to 100.
Rio Ônibus and FETRANSPOR, which represent bus line operators in Rio de Janeiro, did not respond to requests for comments from The Rio Times. In a press release published by O Globo, Rio Ônibus defended the buses, arguing that they break more traffic laws because they drive more than private cars, while complaining about a lack of qualified drivers.
“Bus drivers are recruited from the population and have, in general, the same virtues and vices of the whole of our society,” adding that accidents need to be “contextualized” because others drivers also break traffic laws.