Let’s face it. Life isn’t always easy, and in Sao Paulo, I have found that life can sometimes be rather difficult and stressful. Personally, transportation has been one of the hardest things about living here, and one of the most difficult things to adjust to. After living in Madrid, I was spoiled when it came to public transportation. Of all of the places I’ve been, the metro of Madrid is the fastest, cleanest, cheapest, and most well connected public transportation network that I have ever seen. Brasil, on the other hand, is similar to the USA, in that owning a car is practically a necessity. In Sao Paulo, unless you reside in the heart of the city, living without a car is complicated and stressful, as I, a non-car-owner have discovered. That’s not to say that car owners aren’t stressed either, on the contrary. This city is sprawling, and with traffic it can take hours to get from one side to the other. It’s not uncommon to know people who have missed flights because they took five hours to get across town to the airport, or people who routinely spend two hours in order to arrive to their workplace that is only 10 kilometers away from their home. In all of my travels I have never witnessed a city as congested and chaotic as Sao Paulo.
Granted, it is a major challenge to daily move 20 million people around to work, school, shopping, and back home in one day. Those who can afford it travel in cars, and the richest of all opt for helicopters. It’s true–the hum of a helicopter is an ever present noise in this city. Brazilians are also not allowed to drive when they have their rodizio. The rodizio is the one day a week when people are prohibited from using their car, according to the number on their license plates. Cities like Sao Paulo and Mexico City implement this policy in order to reduce congestion and pollution, but even so, traffic is inevitable, and thus, the need to improve public transportation becomes all the more imperative.
The city does have a fairly advanced public transportation system in comparison with other cities, offering train, metro, as well as buses, which I am certainly thankful for, because I would not be able to go anywhere without them. Yes, Sao Paulo tries to do its part, but it’s not enough to sustain its large and ever-increasing population. Rush hour here is sheer madness, and yes, I’ve been in major cities during rush hour, including New York, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Washington DC, and London. However, I have never, and I repeat never, been involved in a pesadilla (nightmare) of a commute situation like this.
Between 5-8 in the evening you are lucky to get on a bus or train on the first try, and usually you end up waiting for anywhere between two to five trains or buses to pass by the stop before you can get on. By the time you do manage to get on, it is almost unbearable, and I would dare say a health hazard. The other day in 90 degree, sweltering heat, I was crammed into a bus with nowhere to move, everyone standing, no air conditioning and moisture on the windows. I’m pretty sure I had the sweat of at least 6 people dripping on me the entire time. One of the Brazilian ladies to my side kept repeating Ninguem merece, which means, “no one deserves this.” She’s right. No one deserves that, and I have extreme respect for the people who have lived this way for so long. Lately I leave the buses either on the verge of tears or in a complete rage because of the past hour being crammed like sardines in a horribly smelling bus unable to breathe, drenched in other peoples’ sweat. Then, I usually reevaluate the situation and realize that it may be uncomfortable and inconvenient, but when looking at the whole picture, not everything is as bad as it seems. At least I get to where I need to go, even if it is a long, sweaty ride. Needless to say, the first thing I do when I get home is take a shower.
Sao Paulo is attempting to add more metro lines, and the city claims that it will be adding more buses soon. All I can say is, this needs to happen, and fast, before the World Cup in 2014.