'This Ride Is Free' as Protesters Seize Station After Fare Hike
Angered by rising fares and broken promises leading up to the World Cup this summer, a popular revolt simmers in Brazil
Following Thursday's announcement by the mayor of Rio De Janeiro that public bus fares would again increase for city commuters, members of the passe libre (free pass) movement staged a raucous march on the main bus station, took it over, and granted everyone free rides on the city buses.
As the Guardian's Jonathan Watts reports:
Thousands of commuters were shepherded through demolished ticket gates at the Central do Brasil station amid a violent confrontation over proposed fare rises that resulted in fires, arrests and disruption of transport networks.
The station in downtown Rio echoed with police percussion grenades and the protesters’ celebratory samba drumming as they seized control of the main bank of ticket machines.
The demonstrators say the proposed fair hike is an attack against poor Brazilians and mirrors past mass protests that have focused on the perceived indifference that government has to the nation's poor. The issue, say many, goes beyond fare hikes—which are just one sympton of a deeper and more varied crisis in the country.
"If it was a public transportation fare hike when we had good health services and education, you wouldn't have this many people on the street," said one demonstrator, Thais Jorao. "On top of this you see spending with the World Cup, things that we really don't need. We want health, education, decent public transportation."
Riot police responded to the march and station takeover by firing teargas with at least one person, a journalist, reportedly struck in the head by a cannister. Some of the protesters were also reported throwing petrol bombs and rocks at the police as the peaceful march turned violent inside and outside of the station.
According to Agence France-Presse: "Brazil has witnessed widespread public anger at the billions of dollars being spent on the World Cup in a country lacking good public transport and struggling with sagging education and health infrastructure."
And BBC adds:
Last year, similar protests grew into a nationwide movement against corruption and excessive spending ahead of the football World Cup, which Brazil will host in June and July.
Those protests began at the end of May 2013 in Sao Paulo, when the local authorities announced ticket prices would rise.
The fare increase was revoked after weeks of protests, with the federal government helping the state and municipal authorities to foot the bill.
Like at the Olympic Games that began in Sochi, Russia this week, Brazil's hosting of this summer's World Cup—which will bring the best football teams from all over the world to the country—has generated deep concerns about the impact such high-profile and costly events have on the local people as huge sums of money are spent on infrastructure upgrades, security measures, and transportation improvements for wealthy tourists while the needs of those trying to get by on poverty wages are left unaddressed.
As Yasmin Thayna, a 21-year-old student participating in Thursday's protest, told the Guardian: “Public transport is slow, dirty, hot and expensive. The government shouldn’t be talking about raising fares, it should be working to improve services. When the World Cup comes there will be more demonstrations. The World Cup is worsening inequality.”