Transpo problems risk snarling Rio Olympics
RIO might be one month from hosting the Olympics, but for residents like Elizabeth Ferreira, who faces a daily nightmare on public transport, the road to a successful Games looks far from clear.
In the final run-up to the August 5 opening ceremony, organisers say that stadiums are all but ready.
However, transport in a city with difficult geography and horrendous traffic jams remains a headache.
There are also fears over the Zika virus, rising crime and political instability ahead of a vote on whether to strip Dilma Rousseff of the presidency. A brutal recession has driven the state of Rio into near bankruptcy, with police, doctors and teachers protesting that they have not been fully paid for months.
“The Olympic Games could be a failure,” said interim governor Francisco Dornelles recently.
Rio residents seem guardedly optimistic. A poll published on July 3 by O Globo found that 61 percent think the Games will be a success.
However, 85pc see crime and 39pc see transport issues as potentially ruining the Games.
In terms of infrastructure, transport is meant to be the biggest positive legacy for Rio, but it also remains the biggest question ahead of the arrival of some half-million tourists and athletes.
The lynchpin is an extension to the metro system, linking the touristy south of the city in Ipanema to Barra da Tijuca, where the main Olympic Park is located. Because the final station will stop short of the stadiums, visitors will still make the last stretch by transferring to a bus.
The worry though, with only a month to go, is that the giant metro project remains unfinished and will only be delivered – according to the latest estimate – on August 1, practically the eve of the Games.
Construction has been slowed by funding problems but on July 1 state transport secretary Rodrigo Vieira said that Dornelles “has assured me the necessary funds to finish the Olympic section are guaranteed”.
“We are working to schedule,” he said.
Even if it opens on time, the metro will not be at full capacity and only people with Olympic tickets or accreditation will be allowed to ride during the Games.
That will leave the vast majority of locals reliant on the bus service.
Even now, barely 4pc of greater Rio’s 12 million people use the metro, while 37pc use buses.
For 56-year-old Ferreira, who works in medical insurance, the daily slog from her house near the Olympic Park in Barra to her job in the centre means a wait of up to 40 minutes, then a ride lasting two hours and 20 minutes.
Buses are not just late but packed, subject to occasional assaults and driven at breakneck speeds – often at the encouragement of passengers in a hurry.
“They are completely packed. They’re all meant to have air conditioning, but not all do. It’s a big mess,” Ferreira said.
The government’s solution to the problem has been to create a network of bus lines using exclusive lanes that connect the airports and different Olympic hubs.
Two of the so-called BRT lines were opened for the football World Cup back in 2014. A third, running from the Olympic Park and the Deodoro Olympic hub, will be reserved for Olympic credential holders, said Rio’s deputy mayor Rafael Picciani.
And if the metro does not open on time there is an emergency plan to open a temporary BRT line along the same route.
The government is also hoping to weed out much of the traffic that typically snarls the sprawling city by moving school vacations from the usual July to coincide with the August Games. Special lanes for Olympic-related vehicles will be created.
But Lamartine Pereira da Costa, an expert on big sporting events at Rio State University, predicted “major traffic jams”.
Locals like Ferreira are not more optimistic.
“I think that when they finish the Olympic projects it might be even worse than before,” she said. “They closed numerous old bus lines to give priority to the BRT. Now to go to the Barra shopping mall, which is very close to me, I need to take three different buses. It’s crazy.” –