Popular Demonstrations in Porto Alegre Reverse Increased Bus Fares

Weeks of popular demonstrations in the city of Porto Alegre in favour of reduced bus fares have precipitated the decision to return to the previous rate.

The plan to increase the rate by 14.82%, to 3.30 reais, was announced by the State Company for Collective Transport on 15 February, despite the decision of the State Audit Office (ECA) of Rio Grande do Sul, who decided that the fare calculation should be carried out by the current operating bus fleet and not by the overall fleet, among other factors in the audit, as reported by Global Voices.

In late March the executive approved an increase of 7% to 3.05 reais. From then until the decision was revoked, demonstrating crowds gathered in front of the City Hall and the city centre turned into a stage for a series of protests calling for the cancellation of the measure.

The first demonstration took place in front of the Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, on the 25th of March. (Photo: Cassiana Machado Martins, on Flickr)

The first demonstration took place in front of the Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, on the 25th of March. (Photo: Cassiana Machado Martins, on Flickr)

The best news for those fighting against increasing the rate above inflation reached Councillor Pedro Ruas on 4 April. It was he who had filed an injunction against the increased tariff the day before: the decision had been revoked. Soon after, by simply spinning the turnstiles for fare payments on the buses, the original fare, 2.85 reais would register. A downpour brought a sense of relaxation and victory to the mass. It seemed like an achievement, a sign that the protest movement had won against the city hall. The judge, Hilbert Maximiliano Akihito Obara, admitted that the public outcry had sped up the decision to revert to the previous bus fare rate.

Until the reversal of the measure, the people of Porto Alegre, mostly students and other members of the public, protested with an average 4,000-5,000 people at each rally. On 1 April, there were reports of 10,000 demonstrators gathered in one place. “Hands up, 3.05 reais is daylight robbery,” they chanted.

video of the Collective Catharsis on YouTube summarizes the demonstrations:

Jadson Oliveira’s Evidentemente blog highlighted on 8 April the importance of popular demonstrations:

As mudanças políticas e sociais requerem uma gama de condições, ações e circunstâncias, tudo objeto de mil e uma discussões. Mas um dos componentes para a mudança é indiscutível: somente quando o povo começa a acreditar na sua própria força, começa a se conscientizar e a se organizar, as coisas começam a mudar, começam a aparecer líderes políticos realmente comprometidos com o movimento popular. É difícil, mas é por aí que as coisas andam. No Brasil dos últimos anos mobilização popular parece ter virado palavrão, mas a verdade é que somente com ela poderemos avançar.

Political and social changes require a range of conditions, actions and circumstances, all the focus of a thousand discussions. But one component for change is indisputable: only when the people start to believe in their own strength, become self-aware and organize themselves, do things really begin to change. Political leaders, committed to the popular movement, begin to make themselves known. It's hard, but that's how things stand at the moment. In Brazil in recent years popular demonstrations seem to have turned into a byword for insults, but the truth is that we can only move forward with them.

On 28 March, Rafael Garde posted a video on YouTube showing how the protest was sparked off the previous day, and another showing the second demonstration after the confirmation of the increase:

Even with the injunction, more protests took place. In one of the acts on 11/04, the headquarters of the Association of Passenger Transporters (ATP) was vandalized by a group of protesters who broke windows with stones and scrawled the walls with slogans such as “We want 2.60 reais and we want it now “. The protesters claim the reduced rate for this value, based on “an audit by the State Audit Office (ECA), which showed that the calculated value in 2012, which increased the bus fare to 2.85 reais, was wrong because the formula took into account the reserve fleet of buses,” Sul 21 has commented.

However, the review, prepared by TEC was confused, as reported in local newspaper Zero Hora:

Mas, segundo o TCE e o Ministério Público de Contas, a informação foi mal interpretada. O que a auditoria do TCE mostrou foi que, na época em que houve o [primeiro] reajuste para R$2,85 [em 2012], se fossem aplicados os critérios da auditoria, a tarifa teria sido de R$,2,60. Só que, como já se passou um ano e outros itens que incidem sobre o cálculo sofreram ajustes, o valor não pode ser automaticamente considerado agora. Por isso, uma nova auditoria foi aberta para examinar o preço de R$3,05.

But according to the TEC and the Ministry of Public Accounts, the information was misinterpreted. What the ECA's audit showed was that, at the time there was the [first] adjustment to R $ 2.85 [in 2012], if audit criteria had been applied, the rate would have been R $, 2.60. But, as a year had passed in the meantime and other criteria that affect the calculation were adjusted, that rate cannot be automatically considered now. Therefore, a new audit has been opened to analyse the price of R $ 3.05.

In a report published on 4 April by Sul 21, the political scientist and professor at the University of Vale do Rio dos Sinos, Unisinos, Bruno Lima Rocha, highlighted the presence of political organizations, even in a smaller number:

No protesto de quarta-feira, claramente, havia pelo menos cinco forças políticas: PSTU [Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado], PSOL [Partido Socialismo e Liberdade], Movimento Revolucionário, PCB [Partido Comunista Brasileiro] e Federação Anarquista Gaúcha. Nenhuma delas é majoritária e consegue hegemonizar o ato. É um sintoma de que a manifestação transborda e se inverte. Quem está organizado em alguma instituição não consegue hegemonizar o que é convocado

In the protest on Wednesday, clearly, there were at least five political forces: PSTU [Unified Socialist Workers Party], PSOL [Socialism and Freedom Party], Revolutionary Movement, PCB [Brazilian Communist Party] and Gaucha Anarchist Federation. None of them is the majority and none can act alone. It is a symptom of the demonstration that it overflows and is then reversed. Whoever is organized in an institution fails to gain a majority when called upon.

Porto Alegre City Hall has said it will not appeal the ruling, as has its advisory body, the Municipal Council of Urban Transport (COMTU), which met on 9 April to discuss the preliminary injunction suspending the increase.

However, the Association of Passenger Transporters, which brings together all the bus companies in Porto Alegre, has indicated “that it will take legal steps to reverse the reduction of the tariff.” One reason would be the nationalization of companies during the Dutra local government time (1989-1992), which caused a large deficit in the number of companies. The city is also the champion of discounts: of every 100 people who travel on the buses, 33 do not pay , according to the municipal government.

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