Mobility Policies in São Paulo: Redistributive Strategies toward Public Transport

The paper focuses on a redistributive strategy that attacks poverty on one of its aspects – the impaired access to urban resources, specifically to mobility. It investigates two locally-designed São Paulo policies aimed at redistributing road space towards the public transport to make bus users travel faster and at lower costs. While Brazil has been redistributing income towards the poor through a federal Conditional Cash Transfer policy, its poorer metropolitan inhabitants are still submitted to lesser-quality urban services, mobility being one of the most critical. Analyses of the 1987, 1997 and 2007 Origin/Destination survey conducted in the São Paulo Metropolitan Region show a positive and significant correlation between higher incomes and automobile use. According to the same data, travel time for public transport users has been, on average, double the time it takes for car riders to move in the city. Automobiles take up more than 80% of road space in rush hour in São Paulo.

Data indicate that the two policies investigated here have redistributed road space and travel speed towards buses. The Sistema Interligado (2001-2004 administration) focused on the implementation of a BRT (bus rapid transit) network while introducing an integration system that allowed fixed-fare multiple-bus riding. The Dá Licença para o Ônibus (current administration) has implemented more than 200 kilometers of exclusive bus lanes and claims to have reduced travel time on these lanes by half. Both policies suffered from political and institutional setbacks, as the paper will detail. The role of transportation in accessing other urban-life goods has been eloquently described as crucial by European literature. Research on the subject has been scarce in the Global South, however. With empirical data on mobility in São Paulo, this paper aims to make a contribution to the research agenda on strategies that go beyond the redistribution of income.

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