30 August 2006

Washington D.C. vs. Rio de Janeiro: Metro Style, Part I

Rio de Janeiro has a very modern metro system, newer and nicer than the D.C. Metro. However, my concern here is with ticket price. The price structure of the Rio MetrĂ´ is very simple, basically $1 and change for a one way ticket to any station. This is quite different from D.C. Metro which has a price based on distance and time of the ride.

Like the D.C. Metro system, the Rio MetrĂ´ system is run and subsidized by the government. However, to the extent that passengers are paying the operating costs of the train through their ticket purchase, in the Rio system the passengers taking short trips are subsidizing those taking longer trips, which pressumably cost more to complete. This is somewhat unfortunate, because the last stop in rio is Copacabana, a relatively affluent area in Rio. The wealthy here often work in Centro, a long trip, yet they pay the same amount as the poorer passengers that live closer to Centro.

Of course, that is an over-simplification. Some very poor people who live way north of Centro come in to Copacabana to work the beach (although many come from Rocinha and local Favelas). These workers are getting a relatively cheap fare. However, when you are making $1 an hour or so, paying $2 a day on trasportation is a huge cut of your pay, again this is why many of the workers don't travel long distances unless they have a better paying job.

So why not just make the metro free? Two reasons I can think of

1. It will be over-used and probably overwhelming by the poor. Those who contribute a lot to the economy (e.g., the workers going to Centro) will be less inclined to ride the crowded metro system.

2. Unstainable. Brazil's economy is growing but transportation is not the biggest problem. Therefore allocating more money to an expensive project that only benefits a relative few is a BAD idea. Additionally, the citizenry will demand that bus transportion be free. Costly, and will hurt taxi drivers and private (illegal?) bus services.

More on how D.C. metro pricing is better... in Part II

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