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FedEx: “I’m Off to See the Wizard” in Curitiba
Curitiba is internationally recognized for its integrated transport and land use policies and projects. Photo by ...your local connection.

Curitiba is internationally recognized for its integrated transport and land use policies and projects. Photo by www.curitiba-travel.com.br.

Brandon Tidwell, the program advisor for philanthropic investments in education and the environment at FedEx Corp., shares his story about a recent trip to Curitiba, Brazil, where he learned about innovations in transportation, like bus rapid transit, that have transformed the future of the city.

EMBARQ, the producer of this blog, teamed up with FedEx in February this year to launch the Mexican National Network of Cities, a project designed to bring private sector expertise in vehicle technologies and management, branding and marketing, and road safety to the 30 Mexican cities now implementing new mass transportation projects. Read our previous post about why transportation and logistics companies like FedEx are uniquely positioned to work with nonprofits to help improve some of the world’s worst traffic.

Originally posted on The FedEx Blog:

I’m off to see the wizard
by Brandon Tidwell

It was my first trip to Brazil, a nation made famous by the Christ in Rio, Copacabana Beach, and the Amazon River basin. However, as FedEx has begun to support mass-transit solutions through EMBARQ, an emerald city from Brazil began to emerge: Curitiba (pronounced Cure-ee-chee-ba), listed as one of the greenest cities in the world. This city of 1.7 million residents was mentioned as the city where bus-rapid transit and transit-oriented development took hold. It was time to head to Oz.

After completing the Junior Achievement Company of the Year Competition in Rio, I hopped on a two-hour flight to Curitiba. Upon arrival into this magical city, I went to find a taxi into the city.

“How would you like to ride the first all-electric taxi in Brazil?” asked the gentleman behind the counter. “It’s 20 reals less than a normal taxi.” Not only was this taxi environmentally-friendly, but economically-friendly. A triple bottom line taxi ride. Sold!

Rain had moved into the city, cooling it from the summer heat and leaving behind a fog and an emerald vibrancy to all of the trees. As we drove into Oz, buildings and buses and trees unfolded before me. Curitiba had found a way to balance economic growth with environmental sustainability, creating a jewel in Brazil’s crown.

That night, I shared a meal at a local Churrascaria with Rejane Fernandes from from the Center for Sustainable Transportation in Brazil, a member of the EMBARQ network. We discussed the amazing opportunities unfolding in Brazil as they prepare for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Just two days before, Rejane and Toni Lindau introduced me to the Secretary of Transportation in Rio de Janeiro. There he laid out the city’s ambitious plan to build a network of 170km of bus-rapid transit throughout the city, moving millions daily. The effort will transform Rio, reducing emissions and congestion, improving road safety and creating safe and reliable access for millions to travel daily.

The next morning, I met one of the wizards of Curitiba, Eduardo Guimarães, Secretary of International Relations. After brief introductions, I was rushed through a down-pouring rain into a car for a city tour. Eduardo showed Rejane and I a half dozen parks and BRT corridors, showing how Curitiba had not only revolutionized bus-rapid transit, but had created over 55 square feet of park space per citizen. The city re-purposed flood plains and quarries, turning them into the most spectacular parks, opera houses and performance spaces.

What was even more amazing was the thrifty nature of their efforts. Parks need gardeners, right? Wrong. Curitiba placed geese and sheep to keep grass trimmed. Need an overnight performance space? In less than 60 days, the city created the most spectacular glass opera house made only of metal and glass inside a quarry, surrounded by the most natural vegetation.

“The former mayor, Jaime Lerner, often said to cut two zeros off every budget item,” stated Eduardo. “The best solutions, the most creative ones, come when you have fewer resources, not more.”

Twenty-four hours in Curitiba made me realize what cities can truly become and how transportation can shape their future. The movement of goods and people around the world has already revolutionized our planet, but we have to do it better. It’s why FedEx is not only using innovative solutions like electric vehicles and hybrids, but the very reason we are supporting innovators like EMBARQ who show cities how BRT can make their future green, both economically and environmentally.

It’s an honor to work for FedEx, for we deliver more than just packages, but we change what’s possible for millions of people around the world. It’s more than moving an item from Point A to Point B. It’s about the possibility that happens at Point A and Point B when transportation connects those two communities. The same reality happens in mass-transit. It’s not just about the journey, but the magic that happens at the origin and destination.

So here’s to creating more Oz-es in this world. See you on the Yellow Brick Road!

To learn more about sustainable transport and land use in Curitiba, watch EMBARQ’s video, “Cities in Focus | Curitiba“:

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  • Brandon Tidwell

    Massimo,

    Thanks for your feedback. I actually wished I had more time to spend in Curitiba to explore the system as I have in Mexico City. I find the Metrobus there was very comfortable and safe. Shifting public mindset to the advantages of mass transit, particularly car owners will take time.

    I also agree there is still a lot of work to be done, but when you compare Curitiba to other fast growing cities, it has many very positive things. I just wanted to outline their best practices. As with every Oz, there’s always a reality, too.

    Brandon Tidwell

  • Hi Brandon,

    I think you should have stayed a bit longer in Curitiba – and I think you should have taken the buses on your own (and discover there’s no map of the bus routes!) instead of just going through what seems like a miracle tour of all that’s good in the city.

    Because while it is true that they have achieved quite a lot, things are not quite as rosy as they seem. Based on the 20 days I spent in Curitiba taking a special course on the city at PUC University, I have questions and doubts on the following…

    – parks and bike routes are almost exclusively in the northern and rich part of the city, and bicycles are seen as something you use in the weekend to go to the park, not on a workday to go to work (and almost nobody does go to work by bike).

    – there are many cars, and almost everybody who has one prefers to use it. Contrary to what they tell you, buses are really almost only for the poor (you should have asked your guides if they take the bus to go to work in the morning…)

    -many houses are not using the sewage system and dump everything right into the rivers. The Belen river, for example, the city’s main river that runs right through town, is pretty badly polluted, and it seems like cleaning it up is not a priority.