From Brazil

with Vincent Bevins and guests


Vincent Bevins é colaborador do jornal britânico 'Financial Times' e correspondente no Brasil do 'Los Angeles Times'. Escrito em inglês, blog aborda principais acontecimentos do Brasil sob o olhar de um estrangeiro.



Cars in São Paulo – why so many?

Por Vincent Bevins

Lots of people could save plenty of money, even if they take taxis everywhere. Above: São Paulo, a terrifyingly beautiful mega-metropolis. With too many cars.

I live in São Paulo, and I can afford a car. Why don’t I buy one? Because it doesn’t make any sense. Personally, I enjoy the rare luxury of being able to walk to work, so it would be wasted money.

But a fantastic new article and graphic tool shows that owning a car is a big waste of money for lots of people that do have to commute to work. And that isn’t just taking into account the obvious economic benefits to be had if they swapped in the wheels for public transport, walking, or biking. That’s not practical for everyone, anyways – the metro and bus system don’t get you everywhere easily.

No, what the numbers show is that many people can save lots of money even if they take taxis everywhere. Since taxis here are ubiquitous and excellent, that hardly seems like a less comfortable solution. But still, more and more cars, everywhere, every day.

In São Paulo, owning a car, like most everything, is expensive. If you add up gas, taxes, parking, insurance, maintenance costs, and what you are losing in the car’s depreciation each year (not the mention the sky-high cost of the vehicle in the first place), having your own is going to cost you more than taking taxis, unless you drive far, every day.

São Paulo is a beautiful and terrifying mega-metropolis, pulsating with energy and culture. I like it a lot. But I think most of us agree it would be a bit nicer with less cars.

So why do so many people keep buying so many of them?

I can venture two theories. The first is that people simply don’t know about this economic calculus. Since a lot of the car’s costs don’t immediately appear in the monthly installment plan presented at the dealership, a car may look like a good investment, even when it isn’t.

The second is psychological.

A car is status, it is personality, it is control. You power a big machine, you have your own music. All of this is freedom, and bliss.

At least, that is what the advertisers tell us. And if that didn’t work on lots of people, there would be no reason to have car commercials in the first place. If buying an automobile was an obvious utilitarian choice, those companies wouldn’t have huge marketing budgets. Sort of like you don’t see many flashy spots for rice or beans.

And, this being Brazil, there is an obvious class element, too. It makes foreigners’ heads spin to hear that some upper-class Brazilians never take the metro, even though it is so much faster and cleaner than counterparts in New York and London. If the train actually goes where you are going (and this is far from assured) the ride is a breeze.

But for a lot of people, including the rising middle classes, even the elegance of taxis is not enough. A car is a crucial status symbol. An expression of success. Even if purchasing one is the opposite of an investment.

So, those are the two reasons Paulistanos may be wasting so much money on cars, and choking the roads with them. Neither is a very good one.

And if you have any Portuguese at all, click over to the full Folha article, with interactive graphic

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