Reuters, January 21, 2008
By Mauricio Savarese
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Fast, furious but vital.
That's Sao Paulo's "motoboys", the army of motorcycle messengers who
deliver the documents that keep Brazil's financial capital ticking,
even if it means terrorizing other road-users.
Reviled for kicking cars, breaking rear-view mirrors and beating up
drivers who cross them, the motoboys are nonetheless essential for
companies that need paperwork or other items transported quickly across
traffic-clogged Sao Paulo.
Now they are up in arms against planned measures to regulate their
Last Friday, a protest blocked streets in Sao Paulo and more actions
are planned in coming days and weeks, threatening to bring commuter
chaos to the world's third largest city.
"This is a historic moment for our profession. We want to stop being
just a bunch of people and to be recognized," said Aldemir Martins de
Freitas, president of the Sindimoto union.
In all, there are about 650,000 motoboys, mostly poorly educated lads
from the slums surrounding Sao Paulo.
Their anger is centered on government plans for higher mandatory
insurance and to ban them from the express lane of Sao Paulo's main
urban highways, the notorious Marginal Pinheiros and Marginal Tiete.
They will also make protective gear compulsory.
However, the new scheme would also create an exclusive lane for
motoboys on another key artery, Avenida 23 de Maio.
Union leaders hope to meet with Mayor Gilberto Kassab this week. He has
said the new measures are just an experiment and if they do not prove
successful, they might not be implemented.
"The animosity between motoboys and other road-users is growing each
day," Folha de S.Paulo newspaper said in an editorial on Monday
headlined "The War of the Motoboys."
BLOOD ON THE TRACKS
It is dangerous work. In 2006, about 380 motoboys were killed and 9,000
injured, according to the Brazilian Motorcylists Association. It's
common to see a motoboy sprawled prone on the road after a smack with a
Despite the danger the motoboys face, other drivers are not sympathetic.
"I'm tired of having my car kicked as they change lanes. If you argue
with one, five others come out of the blue to threaten you. We think of
them as bandits," businessman Eurico Ferreira said.
Benjamin de Souza, 26, has worked as a motoboy since 2005 and rejects
the bandit label. A father of two girls, he sees the resentment as part
of Brazil's social divide.
"Society denies us support. They don't want to share space with bikers,
who are poor. We are exposed and drivers have lots of iron around them."
"What is the problem we cause? Falling and dying? That's a bigger
problem for us, believe me."
(Editing by Angus MacSwan and Kieran Murray)