Rio Transit Crisis – 1948

Nota: É possível ler o artigo citado, em português, clicando nas imagens no final do post.

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In the midst of the frustration at wanting to have a great blog about Rio but knowing 95% of what’s published about the city deals strictly with violence and/or corruption, I found myself considering a “This Day in History” theme, as well as ruminating over what’s going on with Rio’s public transportation system. I ended up finding the following article(s) from the late 1940s and early 1950s in Revista da Semana via Brazil’s digitized National Library archives.

A note: The article deals a lot with the term “lotação” which is a smaller bus that I’ve deemed “microbus”, usually without legal authorization by city hall to operate.


1948 Started on April 1st!
by Ney Machado

Instead of starting, like in other years, on January 1st – the classic day of the new year, – 1948 started on April 1st, giving cause to one of the biggest jokes on the edge of a real tragedy, – the daily tragedy of the Carioca people: the transportation crisis. “The urban transport crisis was overcome!”, this is the huge joke. And the best part of all this is that they made the illustrious Federal District police chief, general Lima Câmara, believe that this “joke” was the pure truth. Because of this April Fools, which he fell for innocently, general Lima Câmara started banning non-public microbuses, – at a time when the Carioca people are traveling like cattle, standing up, in open trucks, or hanging onto trains and trolleys, at risk to their lives and of having their members amputated, in cruel accidents, as has happened so many times.

The continuing crisis can be proved photographically or with data from first responders, who take victims of overcrowded trains and trolleys. The lines are huge at bus stops – directly responsible for the city’s traffic. The director of Transit Inspection made the police chief believe “Rio’s traffic crisis was already overcome”. The nonsense is as big as one saying that Saara’s irrigation problem is fixed, or that they stopped snow storms at the North Pole. It’s true that the police chief, in a noble gesture, amended and repealed the decree that impeded non-public microbuses. The fact that he had repealed it isn’t something to admire. The appalling thing is that Mr. Edgar Estrêla had instigated the sad and absurd measure.

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The Matter of Microbuses

There was never an excess of microbuses in the city. What there is, is a poor distribution for the routes. People from the North Zone and mainly the suburbs struggle every day to get a place on the pickups and the trucks which are falling to pieces. Being that the area is badly paved, drivers prefer routes in the South Zone, where the asphalt allows for longer-lasting tires. Even in Copacabana, from 8 to 9AM, or from 12 to 1PM, it’s really difficult to find a place on microbuses, chiefly for those that live beyond Serzedelo Correia square. On regular buses, forget it. Even squished like in the soccer stands during a fight, one cannot find a place. And microbuses exploit people as much as they can. All it takes it seeing the buses disguised as microbuses that are starting to appear in the city, whose company is known by the abbreviation V.A.S.C.O. They take almost as many passengers as the smaller buses. The difference is that the VASCO ones have fares for 5 cruzeiros, while buses doing the same route are $1.40, $1.60 and $2. Soon we’ll see these fake microbuses requesting official permission to carry “eight people standing”. And that’s how one solves the transport crisis in Rio. Always against the interests of the people, who are always paying more and more for the ride and travel in increasingly less comfort and exposed to mortal danger.

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…And “Light”, the poor thing!

While the buses are pretending to be microbuses, trolleys intend, little by little, to charge bus-style prices. “Light” – Rio’s Tramway, Light and Power Co. and Jardim Botânico Rail – is using almost the same undercarriage as they did 30 years ago, at a time when one traveled from Meier to Cascadura for one tostão and the most expensive trip was 200 réis. Little by little, Light created sections, dividing the route into two and doubling the price of the trip. A little while ago it managed a 50% increase from the government for all its lines. That’s with the grand promise of improving the vehicles and inaugurating new lines. The public increased the company’s profits by 50% and continue waiting for new trolleys til today. When in movement, each train car carries almost triple its normal capacity. Passengers travel squeezed, hanging on, dodging parked cars on the sidewalk and those that [….]. One tires more during a trolley trip than in 8 hours of office work. Despite all this deprivation, the “sacrificial” Light had the nerve to request authorization from City Hall to increase trolley fares. Thankfully they found an honest mayor in general Mendes de Morais, a true representative of the people’s interests. We’re going to transcribe dispatch sent by general Ângelo Mendes de Morais regarding Light’s absurd requirement. The mayor said: “Improve equipment, increase the number of collective transport vehicles, and better serve the public before considering an increase in fares. Once these needs are satisfied, that correspond to the elementary duty of reciprocity, there will be a basis for a study or revision of fares”. Well done, Mayor! No increases if the improvements only come afterwards. Cariocas were already misled by this very company. The former increase should really be done away with, since there’s no “elementary duty of reciprocity” on behalf of the Canadian company.

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Endless Odyssey

The resident of Tijuca, Rio Comprido, Botafogo or any other neighborhood – even though they suffer a lot with the anguish of trolleys and buses from their region to downtown – have no way of evaluating what the agony is of taking a Central or Leopoldina train in the suburbs from 7:00 to 8:30AM. Nor what it means, later, around 6PM, to take the “Maria-Fumaça” (train) on Barão de Mauá and Francisco Sá, or the trolley on D. Pedro II. Central never accompanied the growth of its suburbs. The trains were always too few, and this evil increases with each year that passes. The result of this lack of control is the alarming number of people hurt daily by pushes and those that fall from the moving train cars. What kind of respect does the management of these rail companies have for the comfort and safety of those that pay expensive fares to travel on their trains? None. Complaints are in vain. The disorganization and the discomfort of the trains that serve the inland lines deserve separate reporting. Twenty-five percent of the civil servants that chat and drink coffee at Central’s offices are completely unnecessary. They were put there by the previous director Alencastro Guimarães to serve his political interests. And the freight prices go up, the fares cost scandalously more, while the equipment continues the same, or worse. Central’s administration has given a perfect demonstration for the last 20 years of how one shouldn’t manage a rail company.

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The “Metro” and Other Promises

The City Council discussed many times the “metro” construction process. The name of the engineer Ebling was highlighted. They spoke for and against the Ebling project. All the city councilors were in agreement that the subterranean train construction project was unpostponable. It depended, merely, on choosing the best proposal for candidates interested in building it. However, this urgent necessity was forgotten. In regards to politics, sterile politics. It was also announced that the city would get 60 new buses, a ridiculous amount in the face of public needs. During the same week, São Paulo’s City Hall received 600 buses. Only a matter of an extra zero.

The Decree-crazy Mr. Estrêla

As if it weren’t enough that pedestrians and drivers have to deal with the headache that is the city’s messy traffic, there’s still Mr. Estrêla, who possesses an old sickness: decree-mania. Almost on a daily basis new orders appeared on traffic, and what’s law today will be repealed tomorrow by a new decree from the inspector of the Transit department. Downtown there aren’t any more posts to hang Traffic Inspector signs – “No Parking”, “Be Careful”, “Private Parking”. It seems like Mr. Estrêla wants to solve the city’s traffic with signs placed on posts. Plaza chauffeurs were forced, a few days ago, to change the starting meter from 3 to 4 cruzeiros. They preferred to refuse the Traffic Inspector’s present and continue with the meters as they were. The costs didn’t compensate. And later the car rental meters went through so many modifications that it started to seem like the Inspector’s Office had a partnership with the meter regulatory firm…

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The Cantareira and the “Kill” Carioca Fleet

They say the Carioca – the Brazilian in general – forgets quickly. They complain a lot but don’t persevere in their demands. The Frota “Mata” Carioca, although relatively new, already killed more citizens than many of the large battles in our revolutions. Last year the collision of a barge from this company with a Cantareira ferry killed more than 30 sad Cariocas. They made a lot of noise and, til now, what happened? Who was recognized as being guilty? Who compensated the families of the victims and how much? We learned from an employee of Frota Carioca that after the disasters – which are common there – passengers withdraw themselves. But for a short while. One week after the accident, the barges go back to filling up. Meaning: they come and go overcrowded. The Carioca doesn’t forget quickly. It’s just that he’s got so many pressing problems that he cannot be stuck on just one for too long. Cantareira didn’t kill anyone many years ago, but in compensation, it tormented [people] a bit. The Rio-Niterói trips, which were done in 20 minutes 15 years ago, are now being done in 30 minutes. And the ferries are scarce… In 1950, when the fares are 4 or 5 cruzeiros, this very route will be done in an hour. It’s a way, perhaps, to recompense the passenger, forcing him to appreciate the landscape more. The ferries are functioning like the stubborn things they are. A little while back, a ferry that came from the Ilha do Governador only had enough power to get to Praça Quinze. It arrived and broke down. It sunk. Cantareira would have to remodel its fleet if the building of a Rio-Niterói bridge or tunnel were to be taken seriously. For its sake, everything could remain how it is…

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Who answers for these homicides?

In recent months, almost 50 people died in transit disasters (Frota Carioca, trains from Central and Leopoldina, and cars). More than 100 were hurt, some forever, crippled and scarred. One can say that in none of these cases there was recklessness by the victims. Those who hang out of the train windows doesn’t do it because they like to. There’s no other way to get home. In the first two weeks of January, two trucks that transported people from downtown to the suburbs overturned  and 73 people were injured, some of them in a critical state. Merchant Antônio Silva Pires, after being stepping on by the crowd that advanced towards the trolley at the D. Pedro II station, died at the Pronto Socorro Hospital, due to the injuries he received. This relationship with accidents – with the dead and the injured – grows month by month. While the Transit inspector affirms to the police chief that there is no Rio transit crisis, the macabre statistics increase. Who is at fault? Who is responsible for so many lives being stolen from their jobs and family? In first place, the authorities are, since they can’t manage to find a solution to the problem. It’s possible that in a few years Rio’s transit problem will be solved…due to a lack of passengers, who’ll all be 6 feet under.

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First Step to a Solution

The lack of transport would improve in a few days if there were a law that forced the Transit inspector and his people to make use of the common transport of the Carioca: trolleys, trains, buses and microbuses, and to abolish private and governmental transportation which brings them to and from work. If Mr. Edgar Estrêla personally felt the agony of a 6PM bus line at Castelo, maybe he would immediately find means of improving the situation. And it would stop arguing with empty words, searching out London as an example of congestion (which, incidentally, has already been proved to him that it isn’t true).

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And as a bonus, below are three short pieces, also from Revista da Semana, about news of a Rio metro being studied and plans being made, in 1951.

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