“We want to democratise public space…”

Jilmar Tatto, Municipal Secretary for Transport of São Paulo, Brazil, talks to Thinking Cities’ Daniela Stoycheva about his and his city’s needs to make the best possible use of the available space.

Polis recently met with Jilmar Tatto, the Municipal Secretary for Transport of the city of São Paulo, Brazil, to learn more about current trends and future ambitions for the transport in the city. In this interview for Thinking Cities he shares the transport problems that the city is facing, the solutions they are working on and his vision for a ‘smart city’. A licensed federal member of the Parliament, currently exercising the function of Municipal Secretary for Transport of the city of São Paulo, Mr Tatto also presides over two transport companies – CET (Traffic Engineering Company) and SPTrans, responsible for public transport in São Paulo.

How would you describe transport in São Paulo? What are the main challenges and trends currently?   
São Paulo is a city of 11m inhabitants. This scale causes significant transport problems. The economic development of Brazil led to an increase in its GDP, which brought along prioritisation of individual transport. In addition, the automotive industry was promoted as it plays a strong role in the country’s economic growth. The traffic in the city is oriented from the peripheries to the city centre where the economic activities take place. All these factors added together lead to huge congestion every single day. Therefore, the newly elected mayor, Fernando Haddad, is rethinking the whole transport system in São Paulo and developing new strategic planning methods. The new way forward suggests making public transport a priority, investing more in buses and bus rapid transit (BRT), searching for new areas of development to avoid everything being concentrated in the centre, and building new real estate close to public transport infrastructure.

As Municipal Secretary for Transport what are your priorities?   
Public transport is our priority. This is the only way out of the problem. This is also what the people expect and generally they support us in that. We are doing a venturesome programme investing heavily in dedicated bus lanes. We have now 370km of dedicated bus lanes on the right-hand side and will build an additional 50km by the end of 2013 – more than it was expected to have by the end of the year. To get an idea about that dimension, until the end of last year São Paulo had only 120km dedicated bus lanes. In addition, new corridors are being built on the left-hand side (BRTs). We will invest in 150km of BRT up until 2016.

The speed limit for cars was reduced to 50km/h in order to on the one hand put pressure on the car-users and stimulate them to leave their car, and on the other to allow cyclists to share the streets with the cars. Also we are currently working on an integrated centre for mobility to control the traffic, public transport, freight, etc and have that connected with the police, emergency services and so on. For that we want to use open platforms for the integration of different services and are looking into the UTMC system from the UK and the European project POSSE.   We are currently making a revolution that is not often seen in the big cities of Brazil and this process is not easy as we are encountering many conflicts – with the drivers, with the shop-owners who want to have their cars parked in front of their shops, etc. Therefore, it is not easy as the whole mentality and culture of the population needs to be changed. Also, as I said, the car manufacturing industry is important in Brazil, so it is not easy to go against it.

So an expanded BRT and bus network is your strategy for a functional public transport system in Sao Paulo?  
Not only that. We are convinced that public transport has to be done on rails. The bus is not for mass transport. São Paulo does not have adequate mass transport. We have only 134km of tram lines and 78km of metro lines, whereas we need at least 500km. The system in the city is overloaded, we have 15,000 operating buses doing 4500km per day.

What does a ‘smart city’ mean for you? Is a ‘smart city’ only about technology or also about policy objectives?
A ‘smart city’ is for me a city that allows people to move freely and where they are informed about all possible mobility choices – a city where people are certain about reaching their destination. A smart city is, in my opinion, a city with good infrastructure for everyone to be able to move – good sidewalks for all groups of people, children, the elderly and adults, cycle lanes for cyclists and traffic calming measures to guarantee their safety.

It is a city where the public space is for everyone, shared in a democratic way. This is not what happens today as the car has precedence over public transport and the pedestrian.  Moreover, a smart city is a city where the public authority can centrally monitor the movement of vehicles, people and freight through a centre using technological tools in such as way as to achieve a harmony between them. That is why a smart city needs to invest heavily in technology in order to allow the public authority to take adequate decisions. And for that we also need to search for experiences and information in different places, as Polis are doing, and apply them in the best possible way.  But the smart city should not be only about technology. The human being should be at the centre of it. People’s wishes about what they want to do in their city should come first. Technology and the integration of different technologies should be used to keep people informed, to benefit the people and improve their quality of life, not only for monitoring.

Is there any place for alternatives to motorized transport in São Paulo?   
A big challenge for São Paulo is to first guarantee public transport for everyone. Obviously, this is not enough. Investments are also necessary to improve sidewalks, to increase the number of dedicated bicycle lanes. And this is exactly what we are trying to do – create a totally new concept about the city: not to give priority to road works, but to the creation of bus lanes, not to give priority to the car, but to the bicycle. We want to ‘democratise’ public space as public space in São Paulo is not democratic. We need to win it back to have it for everyone and this conquest is difficult as it requires a change: a change in culture, strong action from the people and one day a change in mentality.

In planning your activities are you getting inspiration from other cities around the world? What are the topics on which you would be most interested to exchange information?   
We have direct contacts with different places. This year I was, for instance, in London and Glasgow. We have also spoken to the mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who has implemented a BRT system. We have contacts with various authorities and experts around the world. Now we are discussing communication between the different elements in transport in São Paulo, which will be made easier by means of open specifications. Thus, we are not locked-in to one product or one company. In that respect we are looking at what is happening in the USA and now also at UTMC from the UK. A common language will make the equipment cheaper.   As I mentioned before, public transport is our main priority now. That is why when looking for good practices we are predominantly interested in mass transport. Europe has good quality to offer there. But we do not exclude other good ideas that have given good results either, such as calming traffic, or other pieces of information that may solve a specific problem of mobility.

São Paulo is hosting some FIFA World Cup games next year and some Olympic events in 2016 so you will be expecting thousands of people travelling to the same place at the same time.  Are these major sports events a challenge or a chance for the city’s transport system?  
Both! São Paulo is prepared for these events and we have the adequate infrastructure. Obviously, the World Cup is something extraordinary, especially in that Brazil adores football. The opening ceremony of the World Cup will take place in São Paulo, so we are preparing ourselves. The Federal Government, the State and the Municipal Government are all involved in a strategy for the World Cup.

We, from the transport side, also have a mobility plan for the tourists that will be coming. It takes into account technology for access, control, etc. to assist mobility especially on the day of the opening ceremony. We have also announced the day of the opening as a bank holiday that will greatly alleviate any mobility issues. The mobility plan includes moving between the game venues, as well as between those places and where the training camps of the teams will be, and of course between those places and where the main tourist points will be. The organisation is well underway and we are convinced that this will be a big event and the city will correspond to the challenges appropriately. Our main concern is actually that the Brazilian team wins the World Cup and makes a great show. But in terms of security, mobility and information to the tourists, we are well prepared and we believe that the FIFA World Cup will leave a good legacy for São Paulo in terms of both investment and organisation.