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FEATURE STORYApril 1, 2024

São Paulo, Brazil: a city transformed by public transport

The World Bank

Mother and son Paula e Breno Xavier take the line 4 every week

All photos by Mariana Ceratti/World Bank

The World Bank-backed Metro Line 4 bridges the western districts with downtown. En route, residents encounter opportunities and forge lasting memories

In the heart of São Paulo, at Luz Station during the lunch rush, a young boy named Breno Xavier, age 11, stands on the platform with his cellphone at the ready, eager to capture the moment the Line 4 (yellow) subway train arrives. The platform is equipped with safety doors made of thick glass, eliminating the danger of falling onto the tracks. These doors only open when the train, which runs without a driver, comes to a halt. This line boasts the highest level of automation in all of Latin America.

"Mom, can you cover my ears?" Breno asks his mother, Paula Xavier.

Breno, who is mildly autistic and sensitive to loud noises like the screech of the subway's brakes, is also deeply fascinated by trains, especially Line 4. Every week, he and his mother journey from their home in the city's northwest to Vila Sônia in the west, traveling downtown to ride the full length of the yellow line and back, before heading to the north for Breno's therapy sessions. On these driverless trains, Breno indulges in his favorite fantasy of being the conductor.

"It's his favorite activity," Paula shares. "He's collected subway maps from all over the city and has even gotten his friends excited about them."

Breno and Paula's story is just one example of how Line 4 is more than a means of transportation for commuters, students, tourists, and others—it's a place where memories are made.

Line 4 set the precedent for public-private partnerships in Brazil and has opened the door for more private investment in infrastructure across the country
Edpo Covalciuk
World Bank Transport Specialist
The World Bank
The World Bank

Metro Line 4 map 

Courtesy of ViaQuatro

For Julia Alves, a 52-year-old bookseller who has called Taboão da Serra home since she was 12, the subway's growth has reshaped her memories of the city. She works at a kiosk in Vila Sônia, the station nearest to her residence. "I remember when the subway only went as far as República station on the red line. It used to take three hours to get downtown from Taboão da Serra. Now, with the yellow line, it's just a 20-minute trip from Vila Sônia to Luz station. It's changed our lives," she says with a smile.

The World Bank

The yellow line's first six stations started service between May 25, 2010, and September 15, 2011. A year after it became fully operational, the line was carrying over 650,000 passengers on an average weekday, a number that has remained steady. Bianca Alves, the World Bank's Transport practice manager for Latin America and the Caribbean, notes that the demand had been building for years, which is why the trains and stations are bustling even outside of peak hours. "It's the line for everyone," she remarks.

Over 16 years, the World Bank has invested $434 million in the yellow line, funding civil works like tunnels and stations. This investment was part of a larger financial package that included $1.16 billion from the São Paulo state government for construction of additional stations, substations, parking yards, maintenance facilities, and tunnels, as well as $434 million from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JBIC).

While the São Paulo state government managed the civil works, a private partner, ViaQuatro, was responsible for investing in signaling, telecommunications, and train procurement, contributing around $550 million. ViaQuatro will also operate the line for 30 years, until 2040. "Line 4 set the precedent for public-private partnerships in Brazil and has opened the door for more private investment in infrastructure across the country," recalls Edpo Covalciuk, a World Bank Transport Specialist.

Today, the line has 11 stations that connect with other subway lines, commuter trains (CPTM), bus terminals, and bike racks. An additional 100,000 passengers are anticipated once the line extends to Taboão da Serra. Currently, to reach this neighboring city, one must take a bus from the terminal outside Vila Sônia station.

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"The best part is it's free and fast since there are no stops," says retiree Riberto Bozzo, who is often accompanied by his wife, Rosa Viana. "We go to Rua 25 de Março downtown every week to get supplies for the piercing studio I run with my daughter. Driving would take us an hour each way, but public transport cuts that down to about 30 minutes," she explains.

Delivery man Douglas Dubovski opts to cycle from Taboão da Serra to Vila Sônia and then to various parts of the city. "I can get to Avenida Paulista in 20 minutes," he says, noting that he also delivers food and groceries in Pinheiros, downtown, and Tatuapé. Despite working 12-hour days, he appreciates the comfort and air conditioning of the subway. "This modern, upscale line encourages good behavior. People even queue up to board," he observes.

What many are eager for, though, is the ability to travel directly to and from Taboão da Serra by subway. Basilio Ribeiro, a college student in São Paulo, travels to Pinheiros station and transfers to the Emerald Line for work. "This is the best line for me. It's less likely to have strikes since it's privately operated. The trains are fast and high-tech, and you can track the next arrival in real time," says Basilio, who moved to São Paulo from Piauí with his parents seven years ago. The line consistently receives high satisfaction ratings, around 90%.

As they move from station to station, Basilio, Douglas, Rosa, Riberto, Julia, Breno, Paula, and other riders explore the city, create their own narratives, and navigate the daily challenges of life in Brazil's largest metropolis.


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