“Line 13-Jade, ready to swiftly transport Paulistanos and visitors to and from Guarulhos (GRU) Airport” could be a future headline for the local Folha de S.Paulo newspaper… in 2015. That means travel to and from Latin America’s largest airport will be just a bit more complicated for international fans arriving for next year’s World Cup.
Only last month did Geraldo Alckmin, the Governor of São Paulo, sign the work authorization to begin work on the new Jade line of the CPTM (São Paulo commuter rail), designed to extend the metropolitan São Paulo public transportation network to the neighboring city of Guarulhos and Brazil’s most infamous airport.
The current transportation options to and from the airport range in cost from R$7.45 (local EMTU “Airport Service” bus + Metro) to R$36.50 (Airport Bus Service - executive bus) to R$125+ (taxi). While the fare on the new line is expected to remain at R$3 (the current fare for one ride on either the bus/train/metro), passengers could experience significant issues in getting to their final destination, even upon completion of the new Jade line. Despite having only one stop between the airport and terminal station, the trip could still take frustratingly longer than some existing options.
Two major issues arise with the Jade Line - transfers and crowding. A minimum of two (and likely three) transfers will be required for international travelers to get from the airport to anywhere in São Paulo worth going and the overcrowded network could make the trip completely prohibitive during rush hour. The Jade Line will end at Engenheiro Goulart, an insignificant station on the Sapphire Line - the least crowded of all CPTM train lines. However, the Sapphire Line’s terminus is at Brás, a station of enormous importance to São Paulo and the transportation network at large. At Brás, passengers have the “lesser of two evils” decision of transferring to either the most crowded CPTM line (Coral) or the most crowded line period (Red, of the Metro). The ultra-crowded Brás station registers more than 165,000 transfers per day between the three CPTM lines and metro. 110,000 of these passengers transfer to the metro Red Line, combining with an additional 1.1 million passengers from other Red Line stations to create the most crowded line of the entire system. Interested in going to Avenida Paulista? That’ll be three transfers and a minimum of an hour and a half - potentially significantly longer during rush hour. Both the Metro and CPTM have established rules limiting passengers from bringing large bags (such as checked bags from arriving international flights) onto the trains during rush hour.
Not that it really matters - most passengers on the Red and Coral lines are lucky to get themselves on the train. That’s the second major issue with the Airport Jade Line - overcrowding. The main transfer points of both the Metro and CPTM are so crowded during rush hour that both systems frequently send completely empty trains to assuage the demand. The Red Line in particular passes through the two busiest stations of the entire system and 5 of the 10 busiest stations of the Metro. Frequently (and frustratingly), passengers have to wait helplessly on the platform as multiple trains pass and the passengers at the edge of the platform stuff themselves into the train at a density that leaves sardines looking comfortable in their comparatively-spacious tins. It’s more than enough to make foreign visitors from the “personal bubble” countries (here’s looking at you America) turn back in disgust and hail a cab. Good luck - most taxi drivers don’t speak English.