Background, Better Buses, Brazil, Curitiba

Eh Curitiba!

Being a transit geek and spending an inordinate amount of time reading Streetsblog, I’m well aware of the city of Curitiba, Brazil, famed as a pioneer of Bus Rapid Transit. I’ve even translated an article about Curitiba’s plans to build an elevated metro instead of expanding their BRT system.

I was kind of amused, therefore, to hear the name of the city shouted out as I was boarding a crowded #7 train on Tuesday morning. A man boarding behind me shouted, “Eh Curitiba!” and a woman at another door responded “Saudades do brasil!”

It turned out that they knew each other, and were clearly tourists, losing their balance on the subway and taking pictures of each other, but I noticed another couple chuckling and exchanging glances. A few minutes later I heard that couple quietly talking to each other in Portuguese: they too were Brazilian, but didn’t know the others.

I was curious: why had the man shouted out the name of a Brazilian city? What did he think of Curitiba’s BRT, and of the 7 train? I didn’t work up the courage to ask, and in fact I must confess I eavesdropped, although often it’s not hard to eavesdrop on Brazilians. In fact, the larger group heard the couple speaking Portuguese and started up a conversation as the train headed into the tunnel at Hunterspoint Avenue. Here’s what I was able to pick up:

The couple was from Rio de Janeiro and had been living in New York for five years. The other group was from the state of Paraná (of which Curitiba is the capital), but not from Curitiba itself. They were clearly tourists, but based on the code-switching of a boy in the group (“Olha o bridge, pai!”) had probably been living somewhere in the US for a couple of years.

Based on this, my guess is that the man’s invocation of Curitiba was a reference to the “ultra-crush capacities” often mentioned when people question the applicability of the Curitiba model to North American cities. Being from the countryside of Paraná, when he and his friends squeezed their way onto the #7 train the first thing they thought of was being packed on a bus in Curitiba. If the Flushing Line at rush hour is like Curitiba now, and people want to build more BRT, it doesn’t exactly make me hopeful for the future of transit in New York City.