Brazilian Transport Governance by Ian Phillips
The Plenary session here at WCTR this morning was a panel presentation focussed on the mobility challenges in changing cities. The speakers were Professors Anisio Brasileiro, Orlando Strambi, Enilson Maderos dos Santos and Elvio Gaspar. It was interesting to get the academic background to the situation in Brazil that I have only seen in passing in the UK media and link it to what Ersilia (See her blog post above in this thread) has seen during her time here in Rio.
The first speaker began by asking – If Brazil is doing well then why has the country recently had such a wave of protest? The first point made was that of the rapidly changing socio-economic status of a very large proportion of the nation’s population. For example, the socio-economic group with 350-1750 Euro per month income is class “C” in Brazilian demographic classification. In recent years group C has grown from 32 to 50% of the population that is 6-9 million more voters. They have become characterised by being connected by social media, they are the dominant customer group in supermarkets and have the highest increase in credit card use. They are socially mobile, and increasingly auto-mobile. They’re hard working and want respect politically and also materially as having the right to consume and access quality services. Despite these socio-economic changes for many over recent years the development of public services and urban systems has not kept pace. For example Brazil is the 7th largest economy in the world but only 74th for infrastructure quality and 93rd for quality of public institutions (from a World Bank information session at the conference).
The panel speakers spoke of the need to understand something of the history and context of the governance structures for public services and transport in Brazil over the past few decades.
At lunch I was introduced to Oswaldo Lima Neto and I’m grateful to him for giving me an overview of Brazilian transport governance. This is what I found out: Oswaldo explained to me that currently a number of governance problems exist. Prior to the current democratic form of government Brazil’s military led dictatorship had a very top down federal level approach to issues such as transport planning. With the change in regime this form of state control was rejected and is now not seen as politically acceptable. Decisions about cities were to be taken by cities. However, when there is regime shift like this, old structures are broken down and new structures can take a long time to emerge. Without effective governance structures then it is also more difficult for practitioners to implement change, even if as is the case in Brazil, there is high level legislation to promote accessibility and other socially equitable forms of mobility. The dismantling of old structures for financing transport policy effectively removed many transport issues from the political agenda for a period. In fact it sounds as though the notion of accessibility and social inclusion has only in the past year or two become a political issue. The plenary speakers referred to the fact that there is keen interest in the work of Karen Lucas (Who joins ITS this September) on social inclusion and transport issues.
Over the past five years or so the federal government has begun to provide funding for transportation projects. The problems of funding transport projects are that firstly transport projects can be stand alone and not integrated , second projects that involve concrete, steel and built outcome objects are favoured over softer schemes because of a (sometimes misplaced) belief that it is harder for corruption or theft from hard infrastructure projects. There is the conflict caused by politicians awarding funding for projects which are ultimately built by for profit construction companies who may have lobbied or interacted with the politicians in other ways. The city authorities not the national government are responsible for transport projects. The city authority may not have the skills or money to develop a successful funding bid. The city politicians have also been greatly influenced by voters with a desire for auto-mobility so many schemes which may be of benefit to the city as a whole are not vote winning policies amongst key constituents. However the protests may be bringing some change. For example we heard that some Sao politicians were emboldened after the protests – e.g. increasing the amounts of bus priority lanes took 2 weeks whereas before protests it would not have been countenanced politically.
The summary from the speakers and my conversations with Oswaldo were that there are political challenges to progress; there are also problems of material expectation, a lack of long term strategic accessibility planning in most cities, little consideration of integration and issues with the financing structures. Approximately 15% of the delegates at WCTR are from Brazil but overall there are 60 countries represented. The Plenary speakers’ challenge to the conference was to use this as an opportunity to build research collaborations which could address some of the challenges above.