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Sao Paulo Metro offers cheap travel
but not all parts of the city are served

By Andrew Stevens, Deputy Editor

25 September 2005: As Brazil’s economic capital and cultural hub, Sao Paulo is served by a metro rail network that is comprehensive and expansive by Brazilian standards, though somewhat undeveloped in comparison to comparable cities elsewhere in the world. Begun in 1968, it is one of the most recent major metropolitan systems of its size in the world and its 55 stations and 58km of track is relied upon by 2.5m passengers every day.

History | Design & layout | User experience | Ownership | Future expansion | National comparisons |

While Sao Paulo’s first experience of mass transit came in the form of the mule-driven trams which first started in 1872, an underground system was first proposed in the 1920s. Although the mules were later replaced by steam and electric trams and the city’s first trolleybus began operation in 1949, it became apparent by the late 1960s, during an era of considerable investment in the state transport infrastructure undertaken by the then military regime, that the city had outgrown its antiquated tram system. However, the trolleybus still remains in the centre of the city and a guided bus system operates between the city and its outlying areas.

While the city of Sao Paulo is also the capital of Sao Paulo state, the metro area of Sao Paulo encompasses not only the city proper but also the planned ‘ABC’ conurbation to its south (so-named because of the cities of Santo Andre, Sao Bernado do Campo and Sao Caetano), which formed its industrial hinterland. The burgeoning sprawl and the buoyant economy in the region dependent on automobile production saw the formation of the Companhia do Metropolitano de Sao Paulo (or just Metro) in 1968, with construction on the first line beginning that year. The first line, between Jabaquara and Vila Mariana, opened in 1974 and the network has seen steady expansion ever since.

Lines A and D in the network are actually converted from the railroad that linked the sea port of Santos to the coffee-producing area of Jundai which were built by a British consortium in the 1860s. Built in 1901, the red brick Luz station, which still serves the Metro and the Companhia Paulista de Trens Metropolitanos (CPTM) suburban lines, was actually modelled on English stations from the Victorian steam era.

Design and layout
Sao Paulo’s Metro network runs underground through the city centre only, with overground services existing outside of this. Lines 1-3 are Metro proper while Lines A-F are operated by the suburban CPTM network. To enable expansion via more modest expenditure, Metro decided to simply covert some suburban lines for Metro use.

Most stations have side platforms, the transfer stations Sé, Brás, Paraíso and Luz have separate platforms for boarding and alighting. Rolling stock on the Metro are six-car trains, using third rail and travelling on 1600mm gauge rails.

User experience
Considering the poor economic situation in the country at large and the problems faced by the city, not least in terms of crime, the Metro system in Sao Paulo can often surprise with its routine cleanliness, though on occasion the traveller might witness some untidy aspects to station and train standards. The system carries a large volume of passengers each day and routine sights often include sellers walking up and down train carriages attempting to sell low cost food, drinks and jewellery. Such things tend to add to the experience rather than detract from it however. The recent decision to install book vending machines on platforms generated headlines around the world. While stations are well-staffed with security guards, travellers are advised as to be as guarded against crime when on the Metro as they would be elsewhere in the city.

The system falls down substantially on the question of integration with other parts of the public transport system as there is no through-ticketing or frequent user incentives such as travelcards. Ostensibly, every journey must be ticketed. The other failure on the part of the system is its lack of comprehensive coverage for all zones of the city. Those wishing to travel to the Museum of Modern Art, the city zoo, or even the airport, must take a train then a bus. Anyone wishing to make the relatively short trip from Barra Funda to Vila Madalena must travel considerably out of their way on several lines to do so. Those wishing to transfer to a guided bus must purchase a separate ticket from an authorised outlet, as opposed to on the bus itself.

However, the journeys are relatively cheap, with a single ticket costing R$2.10 (around US$0.90) regardless of the journey length, while a book of 10 tickets stands at R$20.00 (around US$9.00), so the daily commuter is not afforded any convenience over the infrequent traveller. Trains operate between 04.40 and 00.00 each day.

The Metro is actually a division of the Sao Paulo State Secretariat for Metropolitan Transport (STM) as opposed to the city council itself. The Metro funds itself through passenger revenue, only receiving state subsidy for concessionary schemes for the disabled.

Future expansion
Modest expansion is underway, with extensions to existing lines taking the network marginally further out of the city boundaries, though still not extending coverage as comprehensively throughout the city as might be wished nor simplifying some journeys in the centre. In addition to a new line to link the city centre with the cultural and shopping districts around Jardins, there is also an extension to relieve congestion in the city centre. Two new lines have been planned in the south of the city, though no work has begun.

National comparisons
One of three underground rail systems in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s Metro system is substantially smaller with only two lines, though more modern in appearance. The capital city of Brasilia also has a new underground system, the Metro DF, which also operates with only two lines currently, though more are planned. There are also metro schemes in Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Porto Alegre and Recife, though these are all mostly-surface mass transit lines, sometimes converted from suburban rail services. The city of Salvador in Bahia is currently building its metro system.

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