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Subway Rust And Chaos In South America's Biggest City

Do Sao Paulo's public transport woes bode badly for this year's World Cup?

Sao Paulo's "Blue Line"
Sao Paulo's "Blue Line"


SÃO PAULO — It would no doubt be more convenient for government leaders if the electrical failures that blocked São Paulo's subway last week were simply the work of vandals. Even as the entire country is affected by recurring power failures, this criminal hypothesis was in fact put forward by the State of São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin and his Metropolitan Transport Secretary Jurandir Fernandes.

So far, there is no evidence to confirm their allegations are actually true.

Much more likely, this official line is nothing more than a new attempt to divert attention from persistent problems in the management of São Paulo. We have already seen such a strategy used many times to justify some of the countless failures that afflict the city's transportation system. South America's largest city, with a population of more than 11 million, São Paulo will be one of the main hosts of this summer's World Cup

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Sao Paulo's aerial metro — Photo: Diego Torres Silvestre

In the latest episodes, a problem with a door in one of the trains on the Line 3 at the central station of Sé caused havoc of immense proportions. After having waited for 25 minutes in the heat of an overcrowded train with virtually no information, users of several other trains of the same line who were stuck in the tunnels — waiting for the situation at Sé to be fixed — pressed the emergency buttons to open the doors, exited the carriages and ended their journey walking along the rails.

For security reason, the power was cut and the circulation on that line was stopped. Metro traffic was paralyzed for five hours. Of the 40 trains that circulated on that line, 19 suffered property damages, with many windows broken.

Two days later, the same door problem happened at the same station, this time affecting Line 1 of the metro. Thankfully, the standstill didn't last as long.

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Sao Paulo's metro — Photo: Gustavo Gomez

20 years of failure

Such occurrences show just how badly the São Paulo metro system is overloaded, and how far behind the upgrade of its infrastructures lags. According to the president of metro union, Altino de Melo Prazeres Júnior, there have already been 16 incidents since the beginning of the year. The figure is a sad indicator that very little has been done to reverse the upward trend of mechanical failures: There were 28 in 2010 and 66 in 2012. Perhaps even more significantly, no figures have even been publicly released for 2013.

Still, aging trains continue to operate, with no sign of any progress being made in security matters, or in how users are dealt with when an incident occurs. On top of that, for the last two decades the metro network that is meant to serve up to 20 million people in the extended metropolitan area has barely been extended at all.

At the same time, according to the Brazilian Public Prosecutor's Office, the pace at which bribes are pouring in is accelerating. It is thought that overpriced contracts have caused the metro operator to lose 800 million reais ($335 million). If the embezzlement allegations are confirmed, we could say one more time that the general population of São Paulo has been robbed again.

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What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

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