Impact of an integrated modal tariff on the mobility of low-income population in the são paulo metropolitan region by Jorge Rebelo, Márcia Barone and Marise Vianna

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Jorge Rebelo, Márcia Barone and Marise Vianna1
This paper evaluates the impact of an integrated modal tariff (“Bilhete-único Integrado-BUI”) on the low-income population of São Paulo’s Metropolitan Region (SPMR) rail-based network. Over the last seven years the SPMR has adopted a series of transit policies that have significantly benefited the low-income population. Before these policies were implemented, the poor were highly constrained in their travel because of high fares and the need to transfer frequently paying each time. Public transit was inconvenient and unaffordable for a majority of citizens in São Paulo. Reform started when State and City governments integrated the Metro(subway) and suburban rail services (CPTM) by making transfers between the two cheaper and easier in physical terms. Ridership increased, particularly by low-income users. Yet the main reform was to adopt a fully-integrated transit system through the BUI. BUI allows users to ride buses, metro and commuter rail during a two-hour period for a fare lower than the sum of individual modal fares. The BUI made transit more affordable. Low-income families can travel more or access other areas of the metropolitan area in search for jobs. Family expenditures in transit decreased freeing up income to spend for example in basic items such as food. Coupled to other investments and improvements, rail transit increased its coverage, and the quality and reliability of its service. Overall ridership increased significantly as did the ridership by poor people. While before the reforms less than 5 percent of rail users were low- income, thanks to the reforms 35 percent of Metro users and 63.7% of suburban rail users are low income. However, quality of service is declining due to an increasing demand, crowded trains and higher-than-needed wait times. Therefore, reform should continue by increasing fleet size and improving signaling systems to increase the capacity of the rail modes. These investments also benefit the poor because of their high and increasing use of the transit system. The paper also reviews the potential impact on SPMR’s low-income ridership of a recent State project to acquire 17 trains for its subway (Metro), 40 trains for its suburban railway (CPTM) and to upgrade their signaling and telecom system, through a World Bank loan.

At the turn of the century SPMR’s low-income population made few trips and two thirds were on foot

  1. By the year 2000 about 7 million people or 41% of SPMR’s population was living below the poverty line.2 The 2002 Origin-Destination (OD) survey showed the low-income population made only 1.73 trips per day. This value was about half the number of trips made by high-income groups (3.33 trips per day). Furthermore, the majority of the low-income population would commute by foot (walking) and 56% of the low-income population did not travel at all.

Table 1: Modal split for the low-income population in the SPMR (below 4 Monthly Minimum Salaries (MS) of family income) - 2002


Family Income below 4 MS

Family Income above 4 MS

Percentage traveling on each mode

























Source: 2002 OD Survey
By 2002 only for 5% of the daily trips of the low-income population were by metro or commuter rail:

  1. In 2002, when the poor used public transportation, they preferred traveling by bus, given the higher capillarity of the bus network, which reached SPMR’s peripheral areas where the majority of the low-income population lives. The low-income population made few trips on suburban rail and by metro, slightly above 5% of the daily trips of this group. This low value occurred despite the large length of the suburban rail network (253 Km), which covers significant portions of the SPMR low-income areas.

The State Government decided to investigate why low-income people made few trips in general and fewer on rail modes, concluding that it was the inadequacy of the public transportation service to meet its mobility needs coupled to the service being too expensive:

  1. Urban mobility surveys helped identify the main causes of the low usage of public transportation by low-income groups—who used to make lengthy trips by foot:

  • Unaffordable fares: most of the people surveyed indicated their inability to pay the fares given their low-income and the rather extensive need to use more than one mode—and hence pay more than once—to reach their destination. This reason also highlighted the lack of an integrated fare across transit modes in the SPMR.

  • Poor Micro-accessibility: transit supply in areas where the low-income population lived was inadequate. Namely, bus stops or stations were far and there was a lack of integration between bus and high-capacity modes (train or metro). Further, riders had to cross unsafe areas to walk to the bus stop or rail station.

  • Low frequencies, delays and unreliable service: service was not frequent enough and was unreliable causing long waiting periods and delays.

  • Long travel times: caused by road congestion in the case of buses and frequent breakdowns in the case of trains. Indeed, the 2002 OD survey showed that the average duration of a trip by public transport for this income group was 1.5 hours, and in some more peripheral areas it exceeded two hours.

  • Uncomfortable and unsafe travel conditions: overcrowded vehicles (buses and trains) were common. Additionally, users faced unsafe conditions to get to the bus stop or train station, and there were instances of assaults and violence within the vehicles, mainly in buses.

Inadequate transportation service to the low-income population has negative effects on its living conditions and jeopardizes its insertion in the labor market:

  1. Analysis of trip purpose for this group shows the negative impacts of not providing adequate and affordable public transit. For example, only 38% of the trips to work were by public transportation and riders faced long waiting and travel times (on average more than 90 minutes/trip) and unfavorable travel conditions. As a result, 45% of low-income riders walk to work (up to 18 minutes). But having to walk means that this population cannot look for jobs in more dynamic poles (generally far way from the areas where they live). This population therefore ends up working in the peripheral areas, close to where they live, and where informal jobs and sub-employment prevail. This situation shows that lack of accessibility and affordability of public transport is an important obstacle to the insertion in the formal and better-paying labor market. The State Government realized that a different strategy was needed to improve public transport for the low-income population.

Strategies implemented regarding operations and fare structure in the rail-based network increased the trips undertaken by the low-income population and increased overall ridership:

  1. To address the problems regarding the mobility of the low-income population, CPTM and Metro adopted two interrelated sets of strategies: a) strategies to make rail transit more affordable; b) strategies to improve operations to make rail transit more accessible and comfortable. Many of these actions were part of the “CPTM’s Modernization Program”, which started in 1999 and is still underway.

a) Strategies to make rail transit more affordable: This strategy sought to reduce the total amount spent by riders on fares. The strategy had a positive impact on riders, mainly those using the CPTM network. As a result many more low-income people use the rail-based network. The strategy included these measures:

  • Free Transfer between METRO and CPTM: started in 2000 at main stations (Brás, Luz, Santo Amaro, Barra Funda and Vila Madalena). Between these last two stations a free express shuttle was implemented in 2001 (PONTE ORCA) to connect CPTM to Metro lines.

  • Bilhete Unitário Lilás:” it is a single ticket specific for Metro’s Line 5, implemented in May of 2003 as a lower fare for this line. It created incentives for its use and enhanced demand.

  • Integration between the inter-municipal bus lines and Line 5 of the Metro: took place in 2004.

  1. Thanks to these actions, riders using both commuter rail and metro increased from 3.5 million passengers/month in September, 2001, to 5.8 million/month in September, 2005, a 65.7%, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Passengers Transferring for Free between CPTM and Metro


Source: GPM PML PMR/CEU based on the demand data of the CPTM and Metro.
b) Strategies to improve operations to make rail transit more accessible and comfortable: Both CPTM and Metro undertook measures.

  1. The main actions taken by CPTM were:

    • Expresso Leste”: involved creating an express rail service to the periphery of SPMR’s Eastern Zone using Line E of CPTM commuter rail. Service runs between the Brás and Guaianazes stations. The measure also involved retrofitting the segment of the line between Artur Alvim and Guaianazes and building three new and modern stations to replace the old ones, which were in poor condition. These works allowed the integration of CPTM’s Line E to Metro’s Line 3, which offers a service that stops at every station (omnibus service). This project included the acquisition of trains and the modernization of the signaling and telecommunication systems, which allowed trains to go faster and handle shorter headways between trains, thus improving the level of comfort for passengers.

    • Integração Centro”: it is a physical integration between six CPTM lines and the Metro at Luz stations, in the city center. This IBRD-financed project included rehabilitating and improving CPTM’s Luz station and linking it through an underground walkway (150 m. long) to Metro’s Luz station. The new linkage facilitated the transfer of passengers between the two rail systems. This project also linked Roosevelt and Bras Stations and completely modernized the latter making it a major rail hub.

    • Improvement of CPTM’s Line C: This IDB-financed project included line rehabilitation, in the Osasco-Jurubatuba section, with the construction of seven new intermediate stations and retrofitting six old stations. It also included fleet renewal and modernizing the signaling and electrification systems.

  1. The main action taken by Metro was to extend Line 2 by more than 2.6 Km and add two new stations: Chácara Klabin and Imigrantes. This action increased Metro’s coverage and improved rail service.

  1. Due to the implementation of these two strategies—making transit more affordable, and more accessible and comfortable—CPTM’s demand grew 47% in 5 years and the percentage of low-income population in the rail-based network went from 25% in 2001 to 40% in 2005:

  1. The two strategies had a positive impact mainly on CPTM’s ridership, which grew from 869,000 riders in a typical work day in 2000 to 1,278,000 riders in 2005. This is almost a 50% growth in ridership. In parallel, Metro’s ridership in the same period grew from 2,366,000 passengers per day in 2000 to 2,417,000 in 2005.

  1. The strategies also impacted favorably the low-income population, which increased its use of the rail services. In 2001 low-income users were 25% of total demand and by 2005 they accounted for around 40%. This share is equivalent to 1.5 million users per day (800,000 in CPTM and 700,000 in Metro). In CPTM, the proportion of users with family income below 4 MS grew from 37.7% to 63.7% from 2001 to 2005 and in the Metro, from 20.3% to 28.0%3. In the two systems, the higher growth occurred among the users with lowest family income—below 2 MS.

Table 2: Low-income¹ Riders as a Percentage of Total Ridership by Rail Mode







Monthly Family Income





Very Low-Income (below 2 MS)





Low-Income (from 2 to 4 MS)*





Total Low-Income Users





* Estimate for the income layer between 2 and 4 MS from the CPTM/2005, based on the data of “Pesquisa AD CPTM” for the layer between 3 to 5 MS for the same year.

Source : Pesquisa AD CPTM and Pesquisa da GOP / Metro.

¹ In 2001, the poverty line to the SPMR was close to 4 MS of family income, according to projections based on data of S. Rocha. In 2004 (last year of the author’s series) the per capita line established by the author allowed to calculate a family line that remained in 3.65 mw, reason why we continue to round the poverty family line to 4 MS. We keep this cut value for 2005 also, due to the lack of more recent data.


  1. While the previous measures had a positive impact on low-income users, it was the BILHETE ÚNICO INTEGRADO-BUI (Integrated Single Fare Ticket), introduced between 2004 and 2006, that had the largest positive impact. The BUI is an electronic fare card that within a two-hour period allows free transfer between any municipal bus and between bus and metro and/or commuter rail. At the time of its implementation, the price of the BUI was set at R$2.00 while the unit price of the municipal bus was R$ 1.70. The system was first implemented by the São Paulo Municipality in 2004, in the municipal bus system. The integration with the rail-based system occurred in stages, throughout 2006, involving CPTM and Metro. The fare of the integrated ticket was set to R$3.00, that is, 37% lower that the sum, at that time, of the fares of the Metro or Commuter rail plus bus modes.


  1. A survey performed in September 2005 by DataSol—São Paulo’s reputable NGO specialized in social inclusion studies4—on the use of the BUI showed that before the integration to the rail network, the BUI was used basically by low-income and low to medium-income users. 82% of the users of the Bilhete Único had family income below 5 MS (4 MS being the poverty line).

Table 3: Income profile of the BUI user - 2005

Monthly Family Income

Percentage of all users

Less than 1 MS


From 1 to 2 MS


From 3 to 5 MS


More than 5 MS




Source : Research Datasol / Marcio Pochman

  1. Also, the analysis of the residential location of the BUI users, performed by the municipal bus company (SPTRANS) in 20055, indicated that the districts with higher percentage of users of the BUI are from the more peripheral regions of the SPMR, where the low-income population lives.

Thanks to the Bilhete Único the cost of daily transportation dropped by half for the low-income population:

  1. The high acceptance of the BUI by SPMR’s lowest-income population was mainly because it made transit more affordable (Table 4).

  1. Using the Bilhete Único Integrado made families spend less of their income in transportation, particularly benefiting the lower-income households. In the case of users with family income below 2 MS, when using two municipal buses per direction, the share of family income devoted to transit dropped from 30% in 2004 to 13.1% in 2006. Similarly, for the users with family income from 2 to 4 MS, this share went down from 15% in 2004 to 8.8% in 2006. For the user of the combination Bus + Metro and/or Train, the share of the family income spent in transit fell from 27.3% to 19.7 % for families with income below 2 MS and from 18.6 % to 13.1% for families with income between 2 to 4 MS.

Table 4: Percentage of Family Income Spent in Transit (¹) in October 2004 and 2006


Without BUI 2004

With BUI(2) 2006

Without BUI 2006

Below 2 MS

2 to 4 MS

Below 2 MS

2 to 4 MS

Below 2 MS

2 to 4 MS







Municipal Bus





Municipal Bus + Municipal Bus (using Bilhete Único)










Bus+Metro (integrated)/Railway





Bus + Metro + Bus (integrated)





Inter-municipal Bus(3)





Inter-municipal Bus(3) + Metro/Railway





(1) Theoretical values, not considering the possible employer subsidy due to the “Vale Transporte.“ The Vale Transporte is a policy that makes employers partially compensate employees for the use of public transit on their trip to work.

(2) In 2006 the Bilhete Único Integrado allows a metro and/or train trip plus up to 3 transfers in the municipal bus system.

(3) Average fare.

Source: Table prepared by GPM/PML, considering the actual fare values of the various public transportation modes, the value of the minimum salary for the years considered, and the average number of trips/month.,

* Fares considered: bus municipal R$2.00; Metro/Railway and Trolleybus R$2.10; inter-municipal bus R$2.27 (average). Bilhete Único R$2.00; Bilhete Único integrado R$3.00.

** Increase of the minimum salary from 2004 (R$260,00) to 2006 (R$350,00) – 35% (nominal)

The use of the BUI had immediate positive impacts in the quality-of-life and travel conditions of the low-income population:

  1. Datasol Research and the Metro’s GOP Research show that the use of the BUI had immediate positive impacts on the life and travel conditions of SPMR’s low-income population:

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