Going underground

I’ve been to the States a few times and have just come back from Europe, where I visited several west-bank countries. When it comes to public facilities and conservation, comparing Brazil to these countries is like throwing a rat in a snake pit. No competition.

But one thing that actually surprised me was the fact that here, in Rio de Janeiro, we do have a much more well preserved subway than Paris, London, Lisbon or Madrid. I’m not talking about the quantity of lines or their length, nor electronic devices available in these first-world subway systems. I’m just referring to cleanliness.

It may seem a little unnecessary to write about this, but I saw in this comparison an interesting subject to be analysed.

Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in Brazil and the main tourist port of the country. But the city is a huge mess. As a native, I feel around every corner the lack of public conservation and care. Sometimes I feel there’s no State looking for us. But when I go underground, it’s like a new world.

Here, and I imagine in the rest of the world also, subways are used mainly by lower classes men and women. People that live far from the city centre, sometimes in favelas (slums, ghettos), and have little school education. In rush hours, subways get packed with workers, and people travel inside the trains like they were matches in a box. A true chaotic scenario.

But once the storm passes by, you can easily see that there’s no consequences left behind. No trash on the floor, no windows or benches broken, no bad smells, no graffiti. This last item specially was the one that surely popped in my eyes when I traveled first-world subways. In Paris and in New York, I’ve seen graffiti not only on the station’s walls, but on the trains bodies!

That surely is something that I can’t understand. I’m not saying here that brazilians are concerned about keeping everything clean, because sadly, we aren’t. As I said, it just take a simple walk on the streets and dirt will come around sometime. But the metro seems like an outsider. Something that crosses under a city that has nothing to do with it.

Some may say that our subway system is public service run by a private company, but that’s no demerit for saying in a loud voice: we have a clean subway. The same partnership between government and private happens with our bus system, but the vehicles and drivers are terrible, and I’ve already seen cockroaches inside.

It’s hard to find a reason for this subway-care-phenomena. Maybe it’s because the system is new (opened in1979) and was a huge improvement in people’s lives; maybe because it’s a very, very popular mass transit system that works fine, unlike buses. Or, the reason could be simple: rich or poor, people can treat well things that are public and useful to them. Too bad this last sentence can’t be said when it comes to the aboveground city.


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