Santa Teresa’s Bondinho Trolley

By Nicole Pelligrino, Contributing Reporter

Santa Teresa trolley (called the bondinho in Rio), Photo by Nicole Pelligrino

Santa Teresa trolley, Photo by Nicole Pelligrino

RIO DE JANEIRO – A ride on the Santa Teresa trolley (called the “bondinho” in Rio) is like a journey through time. At the bondinho’s main station in Centro at Largo da Carioca, a quick look around gives a foretaste of Rio’s future.

Towering over the station only a few meters away is Petrobras’ Edise building, often likened to an ultramodern honeycomb. Edise’s modern design stands in stark contrast to the old-time station and its antique cable cars waiting to transport riders over the Arcos da Lapa and up into the hills of Santa Teresa.

The bondinho was built in 1892 to connect Centro with neighboring Lapa and Santa Teresa. Santa, at this point was an elite, affluent enclave. The trolley transported residents up and down the hills, through the winding cobblestone streets, to and from their important downtown jobs. As wealthy residents of Santa moved out of the neighborhood to the chic barrios of Zona Sul, the neighborhood went into a bit of a decline. Favelas were later erected around the outskirts of the hills, and Santa Teresa gained a reputation as an edgy, bohemian, and often dangerous neighborhood.

Santa Teresa trolley, Photo by Nicole Pelligrino

Santa Teresa trolley, Photo by Nicole Pelligrino

Nowadays, the neighborhood is on the upswing. The beautiful colonial mansions are being restored and renovated. Pricey restaurants continue to open, and business is good. On any given day, one can spot clusters of tourists exiting off the bondinho at the Largo dos Guimarães stop in the heart of Santa Teresa. Tourism has boomed, which has been a mixed blessing to many of Santa’s residents.

Several problems have arisen in the past years in regards to the bondinho. First, as both the oldest and last remaining tramway in South America, the system is in dire need of renovations. With the low fare (R$ 0.60), the money to replace the aging system is hard to come by. Central do Brasil, who controls the bondinho, has suggested privatizing the system and raising the fare to cover renovations and maintenance.

According to an AMAST (Associação de Moradores e Amigos de Santa Teresa) poll, the community organization, “97% of those interviewed consider the bondinho to be our principle method of transport.” They also fear that the system is being changed to the detriment of residents, and for the benefit of tourists. Rather than privatizing, AMAST supports a lower fare for residents than for tourists, as workers rely on the low fare as a cheaper alternative to the bus system (at R$ 2.20 a ride).

AMAST is asking the city and allies to help save the bondinho: to keep it affordable, well-maintained, to conduct restorations in a manner which does not compromise the delicate streets of the neighborhood (which includes removing the newly introduced, three tons heavier Light Rail Transit cars), with practical hours that serve the needs of locals, to integrate it into the city’s greater public transit system, and to open a public entity responsible for the bondinho, “with efficiency and social vision.”

Visit the AMAST blog for up to date information on the bondinho situation.

To sign the “Save the Bondinho” petition, visit here.

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