In order to address the mobility needs of the municipal population, the Transport and Traffic Company of Belo Horizonte (BHTRANS), which isr esponsible for planning and operation of public transport and traffic flow within the city of Belo Horizonte, created nine Regional Committees in which elected participants debate the interests and demands of their communities with representatives from BHTRANS and from the bus companies. The Program for Improving Mobility in the Low-Income Districts emerged as an answer to the demands set forth by these committees.
The Program seeks to improve the public transport service offered to the city’s low-income communities. Belo Horizonte has 2,350,564 inhabitants, 498,642 of which live in shantytowns and slum neighborhoods, including the five communities addressed by the Program. Within these communities the Program operates circular minibus lines with subsidized prices and ticket purchase that allows for transfers onto the regular bus lines within a 90-minute period.
The communities covered by the Program are built on hillsides with steep and narrow roads; for this reason the Program uses minibuses with adapted brake, gear, and motor specifications. The need for mobility within these communities was so high that passenger use has been heavy since the advent of the service. Improved public transport has helped the local population gain better access to health clinics, schools, commerce and their jobs.
Important partners include the city’s Urbanization Company (URBEL), which carries out road improvements along the minibus routes, and the Office of Development (SUDECAP), which invests in infra-structure improvements within the neighborhoods. The communities participate by means of the Regional Committees and neighborhood associations, working with BHTRANS to improve itineraries, schedules, and bus stop locations.
Community partnership is also important in dealing with violence. When the minibus lines first began to operate, there were problems such as non-payment of tickets. Lack of safety, with gunshots along the route, robberies and vandalism, made for tough working conditions. The communities, through the committees and with support from BHTRANS and the bus companies, cooperated to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining uninterrupted transport service.
In all the communities covered by the service, the minibus lines have greatly improved access to work and to schools, as can be seen by the number of passengers at peak times -– just in “Aglomerado da Serra” there are close to 5,000 students using the service. The reduction in time needed to reach main bus routes has been an important achievement.
When the urban development programmed by URBEL for the “Serra” and “Santa Lúcia” communities is carried out, these neighborhoods will then be able to count on service by the regular bus lines. In the “Conjunto Esperança” community, the main road has already been broadened and a regular bus line will soon be set up. However, even with these improvements, the communities have demanded that the minibus routes remain; they argue that the service is very good and that without the subsidized tickets, much of the mobility for those in extreme poverty will once again be jeopardized.
The Program promotes citizenship by giving formerly excluded areas access to the public transport system. The improved access to schools, commerce, health services, and community and cultural activities helps bring low-income communities together to integrate them with the rest of the city of Belo Horizonte.
• An available public transport system is vital in countering social exclusion by improving access to schools, jobs, services and leisure opportunities.
• Belo Horizonte has created a joint effort by transport and infrastructure departments to find a possible solution for the existing situation, which in turn encourages other investments for development of low-income areas.
• Managing local transport issues in the community opens a space for debating other local issues such as violence, thereby raising awareness of the social responsibility of caring for services provided.