Transpo prob­lems risk snarling Rio Olympics

The Myanmar Times - - 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.” –

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