By Luke Milner, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The announcement made by the state government’s Chief Secretary of Staff, Regis Fichtner, that the bonde, Santa Teresa’s tram system, will be relaunched in 2014 has been criticized by the Association of Residents and Friends of Santa Teresa (AMAST). Lawyer Abaeté Mesquita, one of AMAST’s directors, has stated that the works announced by Fichtner represent only what the public authorities are duty bound to do, and nothing more.
The bonde was taken out of operation following an accident on August 27, 2011 which left six people dead and 54 people injured only two months after a French tourist fell to his death from a bonde crossing the Arcos da Lapa.
The plans announced on Friday, February 24th are expected to lead to the bonde reopening in March 2014 and could see a new line introduced between Silvestre and Corcovado.
Mesquita has expressed concern over this planned extension, as the link to Corcovado and its train which takes tourists to the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue, could greatly increase the number of tourists using it, which will have fewer spaces than the traditional bonde. The decision to ban people from standing on the fourteen new bonde cars will further reduce their capacity.
Emily Holmes, a UK-born resident of Santa Teresa is also concerned about the impact that emphasizing the bondes’ appeal to tourists will have on the price and the community.
“The bus is so expensive. The special bus which was introduced at R$0.60 has gone up to R$0.70 and isn’t as frequent as the bonde. Families I used to see early in the mornings taking children to school on the bonde I now see walking.”
“If the bonde returns at a higher price certain people will be excluded from using it and this will change its charm.” She explains.
Elzbieta Mitkiewicz, the President of AMAST, has criticized the delay in reopening the bonde lines. Mitkiewicz has also questioned the lack of communication between the authorities and the residents of Santa Teresa, where the bonde has been the principal form of transport for 115 years.
“Santa Teresa without the bonde is Santa Teresa without a soul,” says Sheila Santos, who lives in Santa Teresa. “Aside from the question of cost or of time, the lack of the bonde is a cultural issue. The bonde is the symbol of Santa Teresa and it was always part of the lives of the people of Santa Teresa.”
The CEO of Central, the company responsible for the management of the bonde network, has stated that the call for tenders for the construction of the bondes will be national. However the Portuguese company Carris, which manages the tram system in Lisbon, will act as a consultant on the revitalization of the Santa Teresa bonde system.
This decision has also been criticized by Abaeté Mesquita, who claims that the process which led to Carris being awarded the consultancy contract was not conducted transparently and that a Brazilian company could carry out the same job at a lower price.