For half a century prior to the Olympic Games Rio 2016, there had been a severe lack of robust investment in urban mobility in the city, and the residents of Brazil’s second most-populous municipality had long encountered challenges caused by an overcrowded, unreliable and outdated transport network.
However, the announcement in 2009 that Rio was to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games was the incentive the municipal, state and federal governments needed to give the city’s transport network a much-needed upgrade.
The aim of the transport network overhaul was not only to develop a system that would allow spectators and volunteers at the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games to travel throughout the city by public transport, but also to establish a mass transportation network capable of shaping its future urban development and leave long-term, lasting effects following the Games.
After winning the rights to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, work began in Rio to develop three modes of public transport - the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), the metro and the Light Vehicle Rail system (VLT). A raft of improvements resulted to the city’s transport system, including a doubling of public transport infrastructure, 125km of BRT exclusive corridors with 125 stations, a fleet of 440 BRT articulated buses, an extension of the metro line of more than 16 kilometres and immediate mobility benefits for 2.3 to 3 million public transport journeys each day.
While it can be difficult to measure the sporting legacy in a host city following the Olympic and Paralympic Games, it is far easier to assess the legacy that has been left by improvements in the transport network. In this area, Rio has benefited spectacularly from hosting the 2016 Games. The gains due to the improvements to the transport network during the Games themselves were easy to see, with around 2.2 million passengers using the public transport services to travel to venues.
The implementation of the VLT made Rio the first Brazilian city to have a mass transportation system linking the airport to the city centre and the VLT also transformed the landscape of the city centre as it allowed for the creation of a tree-lined promenade to be used by only the VLT and pedestrians. In addition, Rio became the city in Latin America with the largest urban cycling network with over 400km of bike paths.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of the investment in Rio’s public transport system has been the integration of all modes of public transport meaning that the city’s residents are able to gain maximum benefit from the improvements. According to Philippe Bovy, who has been an Olympic transport expert for over 30 years, the benefits to Rio of hosting the Olympic Games were considerable and accelerated any planned improvements considerably.
“The Olympic Games Rio 2016 shall be noted for its extraordinary high performance public transport infrastructure developments,” he said. “Thanks to Olympic catalyst impact, it took Rio only 6-7 years to make a 25-30 year public transport progress jump towards much better urban mobility for all”.
It was also noted by experts that the expansion of the metro from South Zone to Barra was only implemented because of the Olympic Games.
A year after the conclusion of the Games, Rio continues to benefit from the legacy left by the Games, with further work on the VLT ongoing. The significant improvements to the entire public transport network guarantees that Rio’s residents will continue to enjoy the benefits of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games for many years to come.