Tag Archives: wealth inequality

The price of a bus ticket…and musings on wealth inequality in Rio

21 Nov

The other day I got stuck in a huge queue on the bus on the way back from the university, not necessarily a strange occurrence but I was struck by the helicopter flying overhead. As we started moving again I noticed groups of people standing at the bus stops across the 8-lane Avenida Preidente Vargas that stretches into the centre of Rio, chanting as the buses passed by and holding placards with R$3.05 crossed out.

Searching on the internet I discovered that this was one of a series of protests against the increase in bus fares from the current price of R$2.75 (about 83p) to R$3.05 (92p) per journey in January. With the price rising from R$2.50 last January. The recent protests were met by the riot military police leading to some nasty looking arrests.

It made me consider some of the issues of wealth and inequality that exist here that are too often hidden. The minimum wage in Brazil in 2012 is R$622 (£100) per month or R$2.83 (85p) per hour. The average wage is R$1588. This puts into stark contrast some of the living costs. For people on the minimum wage, just traveling to and from work everyday by bus will take out 17% of their monthly income before the costs of food, accommodation, electricity or clothing are accounted for, whilst even on the average wage it would be 7%. It is easy to understand why there are protests about the rising fares and why people will wait to be packed into a crowded bus like cattle rather than get a seat in the minivans for 25 centavas extra.

It also highlights the massive geographic divide in the city. Zona Sul, encompassed by mountains and containing all of the sites that most tourists connect with Rio: the beaches, sugarloaf mountain, Christo Redento; is really a small town. The North Zone, an intermingling of favelas and middle-class neighbourhoods stretches out as far as the eye can see on the plain beyond the mountains, stifling hot in the summer. These are two different worlds with a one bedroom flat in the Zona Sul costing at least R$1000-R$1500 a month before condominium rates and rising to eye-watering prices in Ipanema and Leblon, which have the highest square metre prices of anywhere in South America. It is no wonder that the Zona Sul is a different world, where only the upper middle-classes and wealthy can live, unless you live in a favela precipitously perched on the hillside. Now these affordable areas are also under threat. With the pacification of the favelas comes property speculation and eviction pressures, with many of the favelas offering spectacular views. The effects of these changes on the social and geographic divisions in Rio are already beginning to happen.

When we first arrived in Rio we found money tight. Living on one income with rental prices what they are has meant that we have much less disposal income than in the UK. But this puts it all in perspective. My wage is 6 times the minimum, more than twice the average. We are definitely the wealthy. The excesses of the very wealthy are something else to behold. Closing the wealth inequality gap is not something that will happen overnight, but keeping the price of public transport low so that people can still get to work will certainly help.