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On the BRT Route: Stories Behind Rio’s Olympic Legacy

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For the original article by Camilla Costa in Portuguese published by BBC Brasil click here.

One of the infrastructure projects considered a major part of the Olympic legacy is the BRT TransCarioca bus rapid transit line and highway. Functioning since 2014, the line crosses Rio de Janeiro from the Tom Jobim International Airport (Galeão) on the Ilha do Governador to Barra da Tijuca where the Rio 2016 Olympic Park is situated.

The high speed bus system is an extension of the original route proposed in Rio’s bid to host the Olympic Games. It passes through 27 areas of the city and has impacted the lives of millions of people.

The bus route passes through old neighborhoods like Penha and favelas like Maré. There are also communities that were totally or partially removed in the construction process both of the TransCarioca and the TransOlímpica line, which links the Olympic centers of Barra and Deodoro and is for the exclusive use of athletes, Olympic staff and ticket holders until the end of August.

Transcarioca route. Source: Prefeitura do Rio

BBC Brasil traveled along the routes listening to the stories of Cariocas affected by the new system of transport, both within the buses and around the construction of the line. Here is a selection of these stories:

Galeão Stop – Tom Jobim International Airport

Shoe shiner shook hands with Usain Bolt, but says that crowds at the airport have previously been larger than during the Olympics. Photo by Felipe Barcellos

Jackson Augusto de Mello, 22, has worked polishing shoes since the age of 13 at the entrance to the departure area of Galeão and is well accustomed to foreigners, celebrities and athletes. For this reason, the Olympic visitors did not make a great impression on him–except in the moment when he shook hands with the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. “It is good because it’s providing more customers, thank God, but I’ve seen it busier.”

However, the BRT changed his route to work from Maré where he lives. “It’s much faster. It’s improved our lives.”

He says he wants to watch the Olympic soccer games, or at least the mens’ games, but he did not appear excited about the legacy of the Games in the city.

“For me nothing has changed. I think they are saying that after the Olympics, things are going to get worse.” The reporter asked how. “I don’t even know how to explain to you,” he responded.

Madureira Stop

"The concern is more for the tourists than for us," says Thalita. Photo by Felipe Barcellos

In the middle of conversation between passengers and workers, people trying to hold open the automatic doors in order to get in more quickly and volunteers on their way to the Olympic Park, students Daniel Mendes, 20, and Thalita Ferreira, 21, are waiting for the second high speed bus to get to the famous market in Madureira.

Daniel says: “The BRT has improved traffic, but there is still the problem of overcrowding. I’ve heard lots of people complaining that before there were more bus routes and now they are dependent on the BRT. Instead of alleviating the pressure on the lines that existed, they cut routes and filled up the BRT. Maybe there’s some kind of good [in the legacy of the Olympics] but at the moment I’m only managing to see negative effects on the city.”

Thalita says: “For me, it is different. Before, I could catch one bus from Colônia Juliano Moreira, where I live, to Madureira. Now everything is more complicated than before. If there is congestion, it is faster to take the BRT. But if there is no traffic, the BRT takes longer. These problems have always existed, but with the Olympics there’s another thing: it seems like the concern is more about the tourists than about us. The South Zone has always been well planned, but the West Zone, no.”

Neither Daniel nor Thalita are interested in watching the Games.

Considered one of the main Olympic legacies, the line goes from the airport to the upmarket neighborhoods of Rio, crossing the peripheral neighborhoods. Photo by Felipe Barcellos

When questioned by BBC Brasil, the Rio Municipal Transport Secretary confirmed that some bus routes had been cut or became bus lines to BRT stations. But he asserts that “the locals in the region are not being deprived of public transport. On the contrary, they have the option to take a faster and more comfortable form of transport.”

"To be honest, I don’t care about the Olympics," says Thainá. Photo by Felipe Barcellos

Thainá Germana, 20, is unemployed. At least three times per week, she takes her three-year-old daughter Julia to the Madueira Park.

Opened in 2012, the leisure park was one of the most celebrated legacies of the Games in the north of the city and received the Olympic rings donated by London, as well as sporting equipment such as basketball hoops and the second biggest skate park in the country, suitable for hosting competitions.

Even during weekdays, and in the rain, the park is full of teenagers, people doing exercise and families with children.

“Here it was just overgrown areas and houses. Now, it is much more valuable, the area in which we live is more appreciated. And there is lots of space for the children to play in, which they didn’t have before,” Thainá says.

During Rio 2016, Madureira is one of the sites for cultural events and has hosted shows, sports and a large screen transmitting the competitions. But after the Games, locals are asking about how the area will be kept safe.

“Due to the Olympics, there’s been more policing here. Before, there was not very much. After the park was built, people reported that the levels of violent robbery got worse and that there were more muggings inside the park than outside.”

Asked about her interest in seeing the Games, Thainá, who was previously a semi-professional soccer player, admitted: “To be honest, I don’t care about the Olympics. But if I’m not doing anything else maybe I can come here and watch. I used to be interested in the Olympics but I’m not any more, because the world is horrible. And everyone only wants to know about the Olympics. No one cares about the hospitals.”

Ipase Stop

Rapper had a social project which fell apart after its building was knocked down due to the BRT. Photo by Felipe Barcellos

We met up with rapper and graffiti artist Gil Metralha, 30, next to a graffitied wall that says: ‘There is a mountain of money for the Olympics, but not for health.” The wall greets the passengers exiting the BRT at the Ipase station in the middle of a busy commercial road in the Praça Seca neighborhood in the West Zone of Rio.

Riding a bicycle equipped with speakers playing his music, Gil explained that he used to live on the corner of the block and was removed to provide space for the new line.

“In 2013, they knocked down my house. They gave some compensation, but the house was worth more. I bought an apartment in Recreio, but I want to come back here,” he says.

“I ran a social project from the terrace of my house. I built a track and ten skateboards. Children who got good marks at school could come to me, but they had to present their reports. I know all these children around here that you can see. But the project only lasted one year. The BRT put an end to everything.”

Despite this, the rapper believes the Olympics might bring positive things to the city. “For me it basically means nothing, but I can’t only think of myself. It could encourage children to practice sports. They are already being encouraged.”

Taquara Stop

For Isabel, eviction as a result of the BRT brought an unexpected debt of R$75,000. Photo by Camilla Costa

While the BRT TransOlímpica stop near her apartment in Colônia Juliano Moreira is not functioning, Bahian seamstress Isabel Ribeiro, 57, has to take a van to the Taquara stop on the TransCarioca line in order to access public transport.

Nowadays, however, she rarely leaves the house because she has no money for transport.

Isabel lived in an occupation of an old factory on the edge of the Rua Ipadu in the Jacarepaguá neighborhood. The place was demolished during the construction of the new BRT line. Like the majority of her old neighbors, she received an apartment through the government housing program Minha Casa Minha Vida (MCMV) in the next neighborhood, but also received a problem.

Since the local government did not pay the full value of the apartments, Banco do Brasil, who financed their construction, has charged the residents a debt of R$75,000.

The situation led her to lose her job, have several heart attacks while the bad credit rating from the debt prevented her from getting a state pension in order to get heart surgery.

“I lived in a tidy home inside a warehouse, but the tiles were already falling off when the rain and sewage overflowed. When I got the key to this apartment, I cried a lot because I had prayed to God for my own place. But I don’t know if this here is mine,” she says.

“I signed a document with Banco do Brasil and I didn’t receive a contract. I receive bills, text messages, phone calls, but there is no response from the city government. They could evict me. I’m very scared.”

Despite moving house, which she says was for the better, Isabel resents the Olympic legacy.

“For me, the Olympics don’t mean anything. This TransOlímpica only came to end my life, because if it weren’t for this cursed line I wouldn’t be going through this. Everything is blocked, my tax number (CPF), my business registration number (CNPJ). I have never owed anyone anything before,” she asserts.

“Compared with where I lived, this is like living in Barra da Tijuca. It is a wonderful success in terms of heritage, but it’s destroyed our lives.”

When pursued by BBC Brasil, the Rio Municipal Housing and Citizenship Secretariat (SMHC) confirmed that “the process of registering the contracts for the Minha Casa Minha Vida apartments is underway. The contracts will be delivered to residents after the conclusion of this process.”

Some residents have lived in the apartments for nearly two years without receiving the document.

The Secretariat asserts that “they are still regulating the payment” of all the apartments together with the Banco do Brasil. But the institution did not say when the debt would be settled.

“Whenever we become aware of residents’ complaints, SMHC requests that the bank stop sending bills,” the institution claims.

In recent days, however, Isabel continues to receive message about the debt.

The Banco do Brasil confirmed, by email, that “we are actively demanding the late payments. In order for the situation to be regularized, we are waiting for the Rio de Janeiro city government to follow through with the payments promised to the beneficiaries.”

Curicica Stop

"I’m looking for free competitions to go to," says the ex-athlete that had her home removed by the construction of the BRT. Photo by Felipe Barcellos

For shopkeeper Ana Thelly Nascimento da Silva, 30, the removal in Vila União de Curicica was less controversial than for other residents of her region. Between the TransCarioca and TransOlímpica line, she had her second hand furniture shop moved to a nearby space as a result of the new line.

Now, the shop is up against a huddle of small two story houses next to the viaduct where the BRT passes, [at the moment of this interview] still under construction.

In the last month, Ana has had her new place of work blocked off in order for repairs to be made on the construction. This report found her at the moment in which she received authorization to return.

“The people from the company that is doing the works asked me to make a calculation of how much I would have earned in order to give me compensation. And they did the same thing with the people who live here: renting furnished apartments so that they could stay. But everything was fine. There was no damage to my walls, nothing.”

The former athlete says that her journey from home to work has become longer with the BRT, since the line that took her directly has gone. Even so, she believes that the legacy for the city could be positive.

“I’m very patriotic. Problems happen in everything we do, but the Olympics are a good thing for everyone, not only for the athletes. And everything has a sacrifice. Some things will go wrong, but many things will be very good. With these large transport infrastructure projects there will be less traffic in Rio,” she asserts.

Alvorada Terminal – Last stop on the route

Sueli says that revenues increased with the expansion of the BRT. Photo by Felipe Barcellos

Late morning, the Alvorada Terminal–expanded and reopened in 2014–is full of National Force soldiers, Barra hotel and shopping mall employees, volunteers, and tourists arriving from Galeão or leaving their hotels in the direction of the South Zone beaches.

Sueli Silva Santos, 45, has worked for a little over a year at a newspaper stand at the terminal–which is five stops after the Olympic Park. “Here it is much busier. The revenues of the stand have increased along with my salary. I don’t see anyone complaining about the BRT, no,” she affirms.

“I’m enjoying the Olympics. Sometimes I help the foreigners. They come and ask me for things and I don’t understand anything, but work things out. I would be crazy about watching the Games, if there were a television here (at the stand). If I could, I would watch everything.”

Aldair says that the BRT works helped him get work. Photo by Felipe Barcellos

Hairdresser Aldair José, 44, arrived at the final stop at the end of the TransCarioca coming from Penha in the North Zone–a journey that used to take nearly three hours that now takes less than an hour and a half.

“For me, the BRT changed a lot, mostly for the good. It has already helped me with work. I was unemployed and I ended up working on the construction of the route as a transport operator for 11 months. It helped me financially, which I needed. It also helped me because I’m coming here to start another temporary job for the Olympic period.

“I think the Olympics is good for the world and for Rio. It generates tourism, money, employment. But there is the other side, which is forgotten, which is health and security here. This is terrible. The Olympics will bring in a lot of money, but we wonder whether this money will be invested in Rio afterwards. I hope so.”