“THE abiding memory from many a business trip to São Paulo is of traffic jams. But South America’s biggest city now offers a new way to nip between meetings. Line 4 of the city’s metro, opened in stages over the past two years, links several business districts—the city centre, Avenida Paulista and Faria Lima—for the first time. This would hardly be worthy of remark in other international cities. But São Paulo’s 71km (44 miles) metro network is tiny for a city of 19m. Mexico City’s metro is more than 200km long; Seoul’s is nearly 400km. Even Santiago, a city one quarter the size of São Paulo, has a metro that is 40% bigger.
Unsurprisingly, demand on Line 4 is overwhelming. It already carries 550,000 passengers a day and expects 1m once it is complete. Rush hour is alarming. But despite the crush, refugees from the jams above are ecstatic. The line has cut many commuters’ journeys from the city’s poor periphery by half an hour. It is all the rage to start business meetings by gloating over your speedy arrival.
São Paulo’s first metro lines were built in the 1970s by the federal government. But the constitution of 1988 handed urban transport to states and cities, which had less money and no experience of such projects. Years without investment or maintenance followed.
Line 4’s second phase, given the go-ahead on March 24th by the state governor, Geraldo Alckmin, will add five more stations and 1.8 billion reais ($1 billion) to the 3.8 billion reais already spent. Despite such price tags, more metro lines are essential, says Carlos Carvalho of IPEA, a government-linked think-tank. Nothing else can carry the 60,000-70,000 passengers per hour demanded on São Paulo’s busiest routes. Some are being planned, but they will take years: ground was broken on Line 4 in 2004. Quicker, cheaper projects are also needed, he says: upgrades to existing lines and suburban trains, plus lots more dedicated bus corridors, and perhaps congestion-charging too.”