Fixing the country’s crumbling transportation infrastructure continues to be a hot topic both nationally and within the logistics industry in the United States. But seemingly insoluble infrastructure issues are not just a problem here; in Brazil, for example, worries over limited and underfunded road systems are just as acute, albeit from different perspectives.
While Americans fret over their deteriorating road systems, Brazilians are concerned that they don’t have a national system to maintain. The Unites States is cross-crossed by a web of highways. In stark contrast, Brazil’s highway system is confined to a relative small region in the south. The rest of the country is nearly devoid of high-capacity, safe highways that can carry heavy freight traffic.
Severe traffic congestion is another problem that Brazil urgently needs to address. Many American cities struggle with traffic-related delays, but Brazil’s clogged city streets are in another league.
Consider, for example, a delivery truck in São Paulo that drops off a load at an address on one side of the city, experiences delays, and fails to leave the location by 6:00 am. The driver’s next delivery point is on the other side of the city, but he has to wait until 10:00 pm before driving there, because commercial vehicles are not allowed to operate in the inner city between the hours of 5:00 am and 9:00 pm. As a result, deliveries have to be scheduled within a window of nighttime hours.
This is one of many measures that the city—which has 39 subprefectures, or “boroughs,” and 20 million inhabitants—has taken in an attempt to ease its monstrous traffic problems.
Speed limits on the São Paulo beltway have been reduced, and limits on which days of the week that car owners can drive in the city have been imposed. The latter scheme is based on license plate numbers; the first number in the license plate determines which days and what hours a car can enter the city limits.
Fernando Haddad, the mayor of São Paulo, has stirred much controversy with a program to construct hundreds of miles of bicycle lanes and special corridors for buses. Haddad wants to reduce the city’s reliance on autos and encourage the use of public transportation, an approach that the New York Times recently called “the equivalent of urban shock treatment.”[i]
Haddad claims that his plan, coupled with lower speed limits, has already cut the city’s road accident rate and achieved fast flowing traffic. However, the program has attracted heavy criticism from citizens who value their cars, and a lawsuit from the São Paulo chapter of the Brazilian Bar Association that is against the plan’s implementation.
The problem with such schemes to address traffic gridlock, and one that has been experienced in other large cities, is that their benefits tend to be short lived. As new road capacity is freed up, people tend to buy more cars or drive more miles to fill the new capacity, and congestion eventually returns to former levels.
Some initiatives appear to have made things worse. An example is restrictions on truck sizes. Only small trucks are allowed to make deliveries to locations in the heart of São Paulo. But this means that there are more carbon-emitting vehicles on the city’s roads.
The lack of investment in U.S. road systems is a daunting problem. But Americans need only look at Brazil to be reassured that when it comes to the challenges of highway transportation, they are not alone!
[i] Fighting Resistance, a Mayor Strives to East Gridlock in a Brazilian Megacity, Simon Romero, The New York Times, October 4, 2015.