Public transport is an essential infrastructure in developing countries. It allows disadvantaged categories of people to get access to basic services, and it is more efficient than private transport. A good public transport system should be easy, convenient, fast, safe, clean, and affordable, but its development often encounters problems connected to industry structure, financial sustainability, and social appearance. In addition, people can give up on public transport after experiencing delays, long waits, lack of information, overcrowding, and other technical problems (Kyte 2012).
From the 1970s, the Brazilian city of Curitiba has managed to tackle many of these problems, by developing a simple but very efficient public transport system, called Bus Rapid Transit. This system is fast and reliable, because it is based on a network of dedicated bus corridors along the main arteries of the city, that allow reduction or elimination of various types of delays. BRT has deeply impacted the local social and economic context, becoming the main transport system in Curitiba: the new bus corridors have replaced chaotic highways, reducing congestion and pollution; the city has started to grow alongside these corridors rather than in the central area, which has progressively lost its economic importance; the centre has been largely closed to vehicular traffic and transformed in a pedestrian area; by the de-centralization of many economic activities, people have started to commute also from the inside to the outside of the city. Overall, BRT seems to have improved the quality of life, by giving time and space back to people (Goodman, Laube & Scwenk 2006).
Nonetheless, on the other side there are contradictory consequences. Curitiba in fact has the highest vehicle ownership rate per capita in Brazil: 0,63 cars per resident against the national average of 0,27. Also, thanks to urban planning innovations, Curitiba has become one of the Brazil’s richest city, and wealthy inhabitants seem to prefer the comforts of private cars to public transport. In addition, some local NGOs affirm that the growth of the city has not been followed by an appropriate policy of housing, and that it has privileged certain categories of people, rather than serving poorer suburbs (Scruggs 2013).
In my opinion, anthropology could be very useful for a deeper analysis of the socio-political aspects of Curitiba’s public transport infrastructure. For instance, it could help understand how governments use public transport infrastructures, not only as instruments of economic growth and modernization, but also as political instruments to consolidate their presence (Harvey and Knox, 2015: 3). Anthropology could also show how such infrastructures materialize people’s histories, expectations, and emotions (3), while now much online content about Curitiba’s public transport focuses more on technical and functional aspects. Lastly, anthropology could help clarify how the building of roads rearranges social relationships and spaces, mitigating social divisions, but also reinforcing or creating new ones (7-8): while BRT in Curitiba has shortened distances for many people in the city, on the other side it has remarked the distance with the poor living in the suburbs.
Goodman, J., Laube, M., Schwenk, J. (2006). Curitiba Bus System is a Model for Rapid Transit. Retrieved 21 January 2017 from http://www.reimaginerpe.org/node/344
Harvey, P., Knox, H. (2015). Roads: An anthropology of Infrastructure and expertise. Ithaca: Cornell University Press
Kyte, R. (2012, July). A good public transport system must be easy and convenient to use, fast, safe, clean, and affordable. Retrieved 21 January 2017 from http://www.global-briefing.org/2012/07/a-good-public-transport-system-must-be-easy-and-convenient-to-use-fast-safe-clean-and-affordable/
Scruggs, G. (2013, November). Cracks in the Curitiba Myth. Retrieved 21 January 2017 from https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/cracks-in-the-curitiba-myth