Jerom Theunissen Photography

São Paulo

March 23-31

City in Context

São Paulo is the most populous city in the western hemisphere and capital of the state of São Paulo. The population of the city proper is approximately 12 million while the greater metropolitan area is home to approximately 21 million inhabitants. Metropolitan São Paulo’s GDP accounts for approximately 12% the country’s total economic output. São Paulo is a melting pot of nationalities, cultures, beliefs, philosophies, and ideals. Itis Italian, German, Jewish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, French, African,Arab, Spanish, Latino, Brazilian, and Paulistano. The city brings together approximately 3 million people of Portuguese descent, 3 million of Italian descent, 1.5 million of African descent, 1 million of German descent, 850 thousand of Lebanese descent and more than 1 million people of Japanese descent(it is the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan).

I was surprised to find the downtown area of São Paulo largely lifeless and dilapidated. Thriving economies usually have downtowns that are prosperous and in high demand, but in São Paulo exploding traffic had driven people and businesses out of the city center, leaving empty buildings, discount outlets and parking lots in their wake. The main square sits above a highway and is bypassed by pedestrian flyovers, and there’s nothing to invite people to come down to the square. It’s run down, there’s nowhere to sit, and very little to enjoy.

São Paulo was not always this way. In the 1970s SP was at the forefront of visionary urban planning, with car-free zones and places where people could sit, relax and enjoy the city. But with the end of the military dictatorship in the 1980s, city planning fell to the wayside. The river that had once run through the main square of Vale do Anhangabaú had been driven into a tunnel to build a highway. Urban sprawl soon followed as automobile oriented development took over as the primary transport planning paradigm. As the number of cars in metropolitan São Paulo skyrocketed from 1.6 million in 1980 to more than 8 million in 2015 (half in São Paulo proper), time lost in traffic has followed a similar upward trajectory. Quality of life and productivity in the city are largely driven by location and mobility concerns, and approximately 20% of São Paulo’s residents dedicate over two hours of their day getting to and from work and school.

The city reached a turning point in 2012, when the people of São Paulo elected Fernando Haddad as their new mayor. Upon taking office, one of his first initiatives was to set the ambitious goal of rejuvenating a city that no longer functioned for its people. In the realm of transport, Haddad focused on countering congestion caused by private car ownership. “A city is a place of production of goods, political and cultural production,” Mr. Haddad said. “The longer people have to devote to their core activities, the more productive they will be. So the mobility issue is important.”

Under his leadership, São Paulo became the first megacity in the world to eliminate parking minimums and replace them with parking maximums citywide. Large improvements were made to cycling infrastructure with a new kilometer of bike lanes put in every week during his term, and today over 400 km of bike lanes are spread throughout the city. Alongside bike expansions, Sao Paulo has expanded bus-only lanes and created a true BRT corridor connecting downtown to southeast region of the city. Improvements have also been made for pedestrians with increases in sidewalk width in transit corridors and a new, simple permit system to encourage the proliferation of parklets around the city. In June 2014 the São Paulo City Council overwhelmingly approved a new Strategic Master Plan, which directs the city’s growth for the next 16 years and codifies the policies set forth by Haddad’s administration. Though the regulations themselves are fairly technical, if the city is able to successfully implement the principles,the results will be clear for residents: less traffic, safer streets, and stronger communities. 

Mobility innovations put forth in the Strategic Plan call for a multi-modal system with an emphasis on public transport, walking, and cycling. Source.

The plan also makes provisions for funding and financing of programs put forth in the Strategic Plan. Notably, 30% must be spent on social housing and sustainable transport respectively. Source.

The new Master Plan also includes significant transit-oriented development and affordable housing elements, reforms which help address the significant inequality issues in Brazilian society. Along mass transit corridors, including the São Paulo Metro and the city’s major bus corridors, the Master Plan increases building density, widens sidewalks, and promotes mixed-use developments. In addition, the Plan calls for 10% of housing in these areas to be reserved for affordable housing, a good start toward addressing the needs of low-income communities and bringing public housing policy in line with sustainable urban mobility principles. These moves will allow Paulistas of all economic backgrounds to work and shop locally and have easier access to public transit, promoting sustainable and equitable transportation.

Read some excellent analysis of the plan here.

Sao Paulo on Foot -Meeting with Leticia Sabino, Director at SampaPé! 

To better understand the perspective of the pedestrian is SP, I met with Leticia Sabino, founder and director of SampaPé. Leticia has a business background, but became inspired by the role of walking in the city when she did a six-month exchange program in Mexico. For her, it was the first time that she was living without a car, and upon returning to Brazil, she could not go back to moving around the city by car. So, she finished her business degree and went on to study urban design at the University College of London.

We discussed how she started SampaPé. When she moved back to Sao Paulo, Leticia noticed that cycling had many advocacy groups while walking had none. Leticia was keen to begin advocacy work for pedestrians too.  She explained to me that SampaPé was to have two lines of work: to humanize the city and to instill walking culture in SP. In her work, she advocated for a formal space of participation for pedestrians,successfully calling for a chair of walking mobility in city government. Leticia also created a course for citizens and government officials to educate them about the benefits of walking. She also highlighted the program titled, “In Someone Else’s Shoes,” inviting authorities to walk with NGOs through cities to find and diagnose walking problems. In 2015, Leticia helped advocate for Car-Free Sunday on Avenida Paulista. Alongside cycling groups, she successfully advocated for dedicated space for pedestrians along the iconic street.

When I asked Leticia about the biggest takeaways from her work in advocacy, she stressed the importance of engaging with civil society first, rather than government. In that way, if a change in government promotes a different policy, buy-in and popularity amongst the citizenry can ensure the long-term adoption of walking policy. In a city where the car is still the dominant mode of transport, I was inspired by the change Leticia was able to instill within a few years of advocacy work.

Deloitte Brasil Industry Transformation Cycle - Meeting with Elias de Souza, Partner with Deloitte Financial Advisory for Infrastructure and Public Sector

I had the pleasure of attending the Deloitte Industry Transformation Cycle (ITC), a two-day forum that discussed the entire transformation ecosystem and its resulting impacts on business and society. With mobility gaining an increasingly prominent role in the growth and value creation of cities, more attention is being paid to how to new forms of connection and innovative technologies can permeate in Brazilian cities. The main takeaway from the session was the need for governments and private companies to work synergistically for the development and financing of sustainable infrastructure. I attended two events that covered paradigm shifts in the transportation industry:

• Smart cities and new routes for mobility, by Simon Dixon,Deloitte's global leader in the transportation sector

• Funding and financing for projects in developing countries,by Michael Flynn, global Public Sector leader in the Deloitte Financial Advisory area.

I was also fortunate to speak in-depth with Elias de Souza, Partner for Deloitte Brasil’s Infrastructure and Public Sector Financial Advisory services (seen left in the photo above). He stressed the need to define quality of life in Latin America before hastily applying solutions from other regions of the world. For example, while the world is approximately 60% urbanized, Brazil is almost 90% urban already. Brazil,Elias said, needs solutions that answer their own unique urban problems.

In his experience, he has found that first understanding projects and their value to all players in the transaction can help projects find business models and value capture methods that ensure long-term success. Only after this step can project proponents consider funding and financing models, relevant procurement and delivery methods. In Elias’ work, he has found that this method helps project sponsors think outside of the box to deliver infrastructure that directly addresses mobility problems in Brazil.

I valued my conversation with Elias, and his expertise in public sector and infrastructure in Brazil is top-notch and I learned a lot by speaking with him at ITC.

Public-Private Partnerships for Innovative Transportation Solutions – Linha 4 and MobiLab

Linha 4

Sao Paulo is home to two gold standard case studies for public and private entities working together for public good. The first involves the construction of SP’s fourth metro line, Linha 4. Planners identified a gap where city-operated buses and state-owned trains didn’t connect very well for travelers. To bridge this missed connection, SP constructed a seven-mile, six-stop underground metro line called Linha 4 with $1.6 billion in public investment and $246 million in private investment from seven different financial institutions. Increased access to jobs for the marginalized living on the periphery of the city was a key to the projects’ success; by its second year of operation, Linha 4 met its demand target to serve 700,000 passengers per day and reduced commute times by about half an hour. The metro line had an estimated net present value of $364 million to the local economy and boasted average annual returns of 14.4 percent to the operator and 18.7 percent to shareholders. Most importantly, Linha 4 has demonstrated that public collaboration with the private sector is possible and can make for win-win situations for public transport provision.

This excellent article by the CityFix identified two key elements to Linha 4’s success:

  • "Risk Mitigation: Linha 4 was planned to depend on fare revenue to recover project costs. To mitigate the risk of low ridership, the government and the private sector agreed that if ridership fell below an expected level, the government would make up the difference. If ridership topped expectations, the government would be compensated. In addition, the project used a financial guarantee backed by revenues from the state’s integrated public transport system. This guarantee served as an independent fund, distanced from the influences of corruption and political turbulence, and enabled consistent, secure financial flows. Corruption is still a huge issue,as nearly every construction or engineering company has been accused of or investigated for bribery. Frequent changes in government often mean that contractual obligations are not honored by subsequent leaders. Both corruption and changes in governance have tarnished Brazil’s reputation, and private investors have been wary of the transport market.
  • Institutional/ Regulatory Environment: Brazil experienced a lull in private investment in the mid-20th century, but has recently seen a resurgence in private sector investment in public transport projects. This is in large part due to new concession laws that encourage public-private partnership and use private investment for public projects. Other laws have been passed that provide a legal basis for public compensation paid directly to private providers for transport services. Linha 4 could not have succeeded without these supporting policies."

To read more Linha 4’s contract structure, the article “Building Successful Public Private Partnerships in Sao Paulo’s Transportation Sector” does a great job providing a case study on the project.


On June 2013, Brazil made news worldwide when protests took over the country that were initially motivated by the increase in bus fares in the city of São Paulo. The city administration responded to the protests through several actions; the administration decided to open up public transport data,giving transparency to the management of the transport system by bus. As the data volume of the transport system by bus is more than 30 million records per day, it became essential to use information technology to make it available to the population. So in September 2013, the real-time geographic location of the city's 15,000 buses was updated through an API every 40 seconds. São Paulo was one of the first cities in the world to open bus location data.

The first Hackatona (Hackathon) was promoted by bus organizer SPTrans, where startups and developers used newly available open data sources to develop innovative tools for users of the municipal bus system. Dozens of applications emerged to provide real-time information on transportation and traffic, allowing Paulistas to know the mobility conditions in the city. The second Hackatona was organized by the Traffic Engineering Company (CET) in March 2014, with the opening of data on traffic, with the same motto of fomenting the generation of innovative tools for the population.

With the success of these experiences, the need of the public administration to develop fast and efficient solutions to attend to the residents and the internal management was made clear. MobiLab was created with the aim of integrating traffic and transport policies and, above all, promoting the transparency and analysis of the data produced by the services, generating new solutions for the use of public administration and for society in improving urban mobility.

Cycling in São Paulo

I was happy to find that biking culture in SP has beengrowing since the early 2000s. Citizen cyclists, bloggers, and photographers havefostered increased public awareness of cycling as a viable mode of transportthrough Bicicletada (Critical Mass rides) and other creative projects inspiredby cycling activists around the world. In 2009 they succeeded in organizingCicloFaixa de Lazer, a weekly car-free streets program that closes five kilometersof central neighborhoods to demonstrate the possibilities of biking around thecity. The program has been incredibly popular and encouraged public support forwith 10,000 people attending the first gathering. This helped garner smallreforms with a few kilometers of bike lanes and sharrows (shared-lanemarkings), and it encouraged the creation of a bike sharing system. In 2009, citizencyclist movements gained legitimacy with the establishment of Ciclocidade, aformal NGO that lobbied for local biking reforms.

In the 2012 mayoral election, with strong public pressure,all major candidates signed a pledge to support bicycle-friendly policies andpromote new bike infrastructure. After years of political opposition and fewimprovements, the tide turned and São Paulo began aggressively expanding theircycling network under Mayor Fernando Haddad. The city implemented 1 km of bikelanes per week in order to meet their goal of 400 km by the end of 2015. Twelvebridges were adapted for biking and 8,000 bike racks were put in around thecity along with new bike parking at all bus terminals. The bike sharing programexpanded as well with 1,500 bikes at 158 stations around Sao Paulo.

 These efforts mark a break with the policies of past mayors,with the paradigm that Brazilians can use bicycles as an alternative to privatecars or to public transportation. São Paulo residents overwhelmingly approvedof new bike lanes (80%) and exclusive bus lanes (91%), according to a 2014survey by the Datafolha polling agency, but only 4% of respondents said theybike daily. Private car ownership is still coveted by the city’s aspirationalmiddle classes. To put public transit, walking and cycling at the forefront, Haddadhas regularly closed Avenida Paulista to vehicle traffic on Sundays, a movethat has delighted pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders, but aggravated someneighbors and merchants. He also considered demolishing an elevated highwayknown as the Minhocão (Big Worm) that snakes through the center city andconverting part of it into a park. With these efforts, city officials hope thatpublic space can be more democratized in order to have a more human scale inthe megalopolis of Sao Paulo.

To read more about the politics of implementing bike trafficunder Mayor Haddad’s administration, clickhere. To read more about the Minhocão transformation project, clickhere and here for the latest about the project.

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