A new stage of the SP metro opens next week and the city is celebrating. About 3.6km of track will open between the main Avenue Paulista and Faria Lima, a busy commercial street. It’s a important moment because it links two of the city’s key areas. It’s important enough that I wrote this story about it in Monocle magazine.
It also marks the first stage in the modernisation of SP transport system, a process that is long overdue. SP has only about 60 km of metro and light railways, less than much smaller cities such as Osaka, St Petersburg or Madrid.
Last week I interviewed José Luiz Portella, the state secretary of metropolitan transport, and he assured me that São Paulo would have 420 km of integrated metro and light railway by 2014, the year Brazil hosts the World Cup.
I have my doubts. Public works projects in Brazil take forever. They’ve been building a metro station near my house for two years now and it’s not scheduled to be ready for another four years. Two years after being chosen to host the World Cup they’ve still to start work on any of the stadiums.
What the hell takes them so long?
It’s an unfair comparison but Shanghai has added 190 km in the last six years and Beijing isn’t far behind. No one seriously expects São Paulo to match that kind of pace because unlike China it is a democracy with a functioning, if slow, justice system.
But the city is grinding to a halt because of traffic congestion and it isn’t moving nearly fast enough to solve the problems. It needs a larger and better public transport system and it needs it now.
That means getting rail lines laid quicker. It means less corruption and more competition in the tender process. And it means construction companies have to bite the bullet and slash their margins.
Most importantly, it means Brazilians need to pull together if they are serious about transforming their country into one that is truly modern and dynamic.