By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In April, officials say that Rio de Janeiro residents and visitors will be able travel the city’s downtown Centro and Port Zone in one of two Veículo Leve sobre Trilhos/VLT (Vehicle on Light Tracks) lines. The first lines will connect Rio’s downtown and port area to the bus station and the Santos Dumont domestic airport, and with the VLT, city authorities hope to improve mobility and accessibility to areas beyond the beaches.
“The start of the mobility crisis in Rio probably started with the end of the trams,” said Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes on Sunday while on a VLT test run. “I hope that the VLT will mean a new mobility era (for the city).”
These first VLT lines will run for an estimated 28km and feature six lines and 42 stations. According to officials, each vehicle will have the capacity to carry 420 passengers at a time and over 300,000 passengers per day once operational.
These initial VLT trains, according to government sources, will be fully operational by August, when Rio hosts the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics, and ready to transport thousands of visitors from the airport to downtown Rio. Taylor, however, says that this type of transport will likely revitalize the old part of town well beyond the world sporting event.
For Harry Taylor, a British expatriate who has been living in Rio for over five years and is an owner of the new Moby Self Storage located near the Port Zone, these first VLT trains are likely to improve the accessibility to the port area even further. He said, “You can [already] get from Botafogo to the port easily in under ten minutes now in a car, and when the VLT opens, then the whole area will open up to those choosing not to drive.”
Taylor adds that residential, commercial and retail establishments planned for the region will make it a “cool area” to visit for lunch and at night. “Having a new safe and reliable transport option (other than buses) will make the area so much more appealing and accessible,” he explains.
When asked if the infrastructure and refurbishments in Rio’s Centro and Port Zone will leave a legacy beyond the Olympics, Taylor is optimistic. “There are plans for South America’s largest shopping area, millions of square meters of premium office space and high-end residential developments already being built.”
“Think how cities like Barcelona and London made their ‘docklands areas’ into desirable destinations and you can see why the Porto Maravilha project is such an exciting one for everyone living and visiting Rio,” he says.
According to municipal government coordinator, Pedro Paulo Carvalho, the city plans to expand the VLT system further, to Rio’s Zona Sul (South Zone), providing residents and visitors further accessibility to downtown museums and nightlife.
The city hopes to receive project bids from companies interested in expanding the VLT to the Zona Sul by October, and make their decision by the end of the year. According to Carvalho the new line will call for a 23-km stretch from Botafogo to Gávea.