Urban transport in Brazil

Using public transport within cities

Urban transport in Brazil

Brazil is constantly criticised for its lack of investment in infrastructure. Although predicted to improve significantly over the next decade, public transport services within cities tend to be underdeveloped, chaotic, and overcrowded during rush hours.

Most large cities in Brazil are equipped with extensive road networks with buses being the main and most accessible form of public transport for Brazilians. Where available, taking the subway is a viable option to avoid intense traffic. Taxis are more expensive, but safer to use during night times. Nevertheless, safety precautions should still be taken at all times when commuting through Brazil’s urban areas.

City buses

Buses are the common form of transport amongst Brazil’s lower-class residents who have to commute long distances from the outer-city limits to richer areas where they work. Bus fare is generally very cheap by European and U.S standards, but slightly expensive in relation to the low incomes received by most bus commuters. A single ticket costs about R3.00 (€0.95 or $1.30) but may vary according to which city you are in and how long your journey is.

Payment of fares can be made in cash or by using travel cards such as the Bilhete Unico in Sao Paulo which includes the use of nearly all public transport facilities, but to obtain one you must be a resident and have a CPF number. Students can get discounts with the appropriate Student Card (Cartao Escolar/ Carteirinha de Estudante).

Some city buses can get extremely crowded during rush hours (7am - 10am and 5pm - 8pm), especially in Sao Paulo and Rio. It is highly recommended you work out which bus you will take and from where before leaving the house since bus stops usually have no signs or maps on them. Sometimes, the only way you know there is a bus stop is because there is a crowd of people on the side of the street flagging down buses. Safety should not be an issue if you are cautious and alert at all times. You should also refrain from riding buses after dark. In Rio you have the option of an air-conditioned bus service, the Frescâo, which is more expensive, but generally worth the extra cost during the hotter months. For more detailed information on bus transport within the individual cities see municipal websites for each city (all in Portuguese).


Subway systems can be found in about eight Brazilian cities including Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte. Although covering a very limited area of each city when you compare them to most European subway systems, metros are typically cleaner than buses and the best thing about them is that you do not become a victim of the heavy traffic. Fares cost around R3.00 and travel cards commonly include metro travel.  

Brazil’s metros are recognised as safe, reliable and cost effective. Nevertheless, you should always keep valuables out of sight and be watchful of any suspicious activity occurring around you.

Other metros are found in Brasilia, Cariri, Porto Alegre, Recife and Teresina.


Getting around via taxi can save you a lot of time and trouble, especially if you are going out at night which is when public transport can be dangerous. Depending on the city you are in, the taxis look different: in Sao Paulo they are white, in Rio they are yellow, in Curitiba they are orange, etc.

The safest way to get a taxi is to either call a company (e.g. Radiotaxi, Coopertaxi) or to go to your nearest taxi stop, or ponto de taxi. Most pontos de taxi have a telephone number you can call, that way they can just pick you up at the door. If there is a ponto near to where you are staying, it is worth getting to know the drivers that operate it, that way you always have a safe option.

If you need to hail a cab on the street, be wary since there is a high number of unregistered taxis and these can be risky. Chances are, nothing will happen, but if you feel uncomfortable and threatened, nicely ask the driver to let you off when you see a ponto. An extra safe option would be to use a mobile app, such as 99Taxis  which tracks down your nearest available (and registered) taxi and lets you keep a record of who the driver is with all his details.  

Once you're inside the cab, you should keep valuables out of sight, such as flashy jewelry, smartphones, laptops, etc.  Since taxis are a prime target for armed muggers on motorbikes, if they spot you with something valuable, they’ll hold you up at the next traffic light.

Tipping is not necessary, however, if the fare ends up being R12.20, for example, as a matter of convenience you should ask the driver round up to R13.

Further reading

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