Brazil invests in Sao Paulo bus services that set off protests

BRASILIA Wed Jul 31, 2013 2:28pm EDT

People attempt to board a crowded bus in Sao Paulo May 23, 2012. REUTERS/Junior Lago

People attempt to board a crowded bus in Sao Paulo May 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Junior Lago

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BRASILIA (Reuters) - President Dilma Rousseff moved quickly on Wednesday to improve bus services in Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo, where protests over a fare increase in June triggered an outburst of national discontent that battered her popularity.

Rousseff announced that 3 billion reais ($1.31 billion) in federal money will be invested in creating 99 km (61 miles) of new express lanes to speed up bus services in Sao Paulo, the country's financial capital.

"Brazilian cities cannot expect people to spend six hours of their life every day in a bus," she said at an event in Sao Paulo where she also announced more funds to clean up the city's filthy creeks and rivers.

It was a protest over a planned increase in bus fares in Sao Paulo that set off a month-long wave of massive protests against Brazil's high cost of living, poor public services, corruption and the misuse of government money.

One million Brazilians took to the streets at the peak of the protests, rocking the country's political establishment and undermining Rousseff's popularity to the point where her chances of re-election next year are now unclear.

Deficient public transport, a major cause of anger for Brazilians who endure long commutes to get to work or study, has resulted from decades of neglect and lack of investment that left Brazil with such dilapidated infrastructure that it has become an obstacle to economic growth.

The funds for bus lanes were already earmarked by Rousseff's government in its investment program to speed up the country's sluggish growth.

Since the protests, and with elections emerging on the horizon, Rousseff has been under pressure to boost spending, at a time when she is trying to regain credibility as a fiscally responsible leader.

Sporadic protests and rioting have continued in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to demand the ouster of the governors of those states.

Rousseff made the announcement about the investment alongside Sao Paulo's mayor Fernando Haddad, a rising star in her ruling Workers' Party.

She said 55 percent of Sao Paulo's 11 million inhabitants rely on public transport and Sao Paulo has the smallest metro underground train system in the world for a city of its size.

Rousseff announced additional investments of 3.6 billion to drain and clean up eight filthy creeks and recover the springs that feed two reservoirs that supply drinking water to the city. Garbage, wastewater and unauthorized squatter settlements have compromised the springs in recent years.

Rousseff's government will spend 1.5 billion reais to build low-cost housing to resettle families living on the banks of the creeks and reservoirs, she said.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; editing by Christopher Wilson)

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