Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Francisco Antunes / Flickr
Finance & Innovation

This Taxi Service Is Making Transportation Accessible to São Paulo's Poorest

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Access to transportation is crucial to escaping poverty. Expanding affordable transportation options means people will have better access to health care, jobs, and crucial services. This taxi firm serves São Paulo's most vulnerable communities. Join us in taking action on this issue here.

Drivers offering their services on ridesharing apps often steer clear of São Paulo's peripheral neighborhoods citing their violent reputations. However, one local taxi firm, Ubra, is now providing much-needed transportation service to those living in the poorest regions of Brazil's biggest city.

Brasilândia, a district outside São Paul, is one of the city's poorest areas — most residents live in slums known as favelas. Public transportation barely services these favelas. With the closest metro 5 miles away, locals depend on crowded and inconsistent buses to get to the city center.

The average Brasilândia resident lives on about $100 a month — less than a third of the what the average resident of a São Paulo lives on. And even if drivers weren't afraid to come out to Brasilândia, most residents struggle to afford such alternatives to public transportation like cars and ridesharing services.

Take Action: Test your knowledge On The Global Goals

But Ubra is transforming the way locals get around their neighborhoods. Alvimar da Silva, who previously drove for another app, created Ubra with help from his children and friends when he realized he could make a better income driving his neighbors around than driving for the major ridesharing apps, the Guardian reports. Ubra also offers booking via smartphones or phone calls and takes payment in cash or petrol, making a point to be more accessible and inclusive than other ride hailing apps, according to the Guardian.

Access to transportation is crucial for escaping poverty, according to an ongoing study on social mobility trends, based at Harvard, which found that "commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty." Better transportation means better access to many other opportunities and services that can help break the poverty cycle, including education, health care, and jobs.

Ubra is also directly helping to address poverty by employing local drivers who both know the area and are in need of work. Brazil's unemployment rate has fluctuated between 12% to 13% over the past year and job prospects are even more uncertain for favela residents, who have to find creative ways to make ends meet.

Uber, 99, and Cabify have all admitted that trips ending in "risky" areas are flagged and drivers ultimately decide whether to provide service to certain riders and neighborhoods, the Guardian reports. By hiring local drivers, Ubra is also able to get around the fear of such areas.

"There's a myth about the periphery being dangerous," Ubra founder Da Silva told the Guardian. I say violence is everywhere — probably even more so in the central area than in the periphery. Our modus operandi was hiring local drivers, born and [residing] in Brasilândia, who are not prejudiced against it and are not afraid to work here."

More than 50 million people in Brazil — nearly 25% of the population — live below the poverty line. The statistics for São Paulo are equally stark with 11 million out of 20 million people living in slums with limited access to transportation and it is these people that Ubra is focusing on for now.

Read More: Your Proximity to Work and Transportation Could Determine Your Job Prospects

"Our focus is in the areas that are being excluded [from the other apps], but we will eventually work in all São Paulo," Da Silva's daughter told the Guardian. "There is a large demand from the drivers themselves to work just around their neighbourhoods. They want to avoid traffic and gasoline expenses, while being close to their homes and families."

Currently, Ubra estimates that it performs around 5,000 to 6,000 rides each month, serving only about 2% to 3% of Brasilândia's population. However, they plan to scale up to meet the needs of 15% to 20% of the neighborhood and extend their model to other communities that are underserved by transportation, according to the Guardian.