Without Cars, Sao Paulo Is Actually Kind of Pleasant Right Now

(Bloomberg) -- Images and news reports from Brazil over the past week depict a chaotic scene marked by gas shortages and gridlocked roadways. But the atmosphere is very different in large swaths of Sao Paulo -- at least for now.

A drive across town or a morning stroll through the city’s key financial district are downright pleasant. Rush-hour traffic jams have disappeared as more commuters either stay home or leave their cars parked and take bikes to the office instead. Several delivery trucks were making their rounds as usual in the upscale Itaim Bibi neighborhood on Tuesday, while half a dozen coffee shops and corner stores said they hadn’t yet been hit with any dramatic shortages.

Brazil takes stock of a week-long strike and it’s not pretty

But beneath the relative calm is the sense that the chaos that’s engulfed other parts of the nation could boil over here at any moment, too. Interstate truckers have been on strike for nine days, intermittently blocking highways and halting deliveries of fuel and fresh produce. Grocery store shelves everywhere are looking thin. And many of Brazil’s businesses and public schools are shut as gas tanks run low and employees struggle to get to work.

“Of course I’m worried,” says Lucas Ramos, owner of the D’Guste diner in Itaim. While he’s still stocked up on ingredients, he said he can no longer find papaya. And yesterday, he paid full price for a half-full box of tomatoes. “If it goes on for much longer...” he says, then shakes his head.

Paulo Oliveira, a truck driver dropping off condiments at restaurants Tuesday morning, says he’s running on fumes and won’t be able to make deliveries past today unless he gets more gas. He filled up his fleet of four vehicles last Thursday, but hasn’t been able to find any fuel since.

Like Oliveira, many Sao Paulo drivers filled up when word spread last week that strikes had started. But many gas stations have been shut for days and when a fuel delivery is made, the calm on Sao Paulo’s streets is interrupted as drivers rush to get there in time. Residents in group chats trade tips about possible fuel deliveries and share photos of lines at service stations that stretch around corners.

Even when a service station does have gas these days, there’s often a catch. At a Royal Dutch Shell Plc station Wednesday afternoon, about five city police officers stood guard, directing traffic and checking IDs. Only judges, doctors, police and public prosecutors were allowed to buy gas, one officer said.

Most people are just trying to make it through tomorrow. Thursday’s a holiday in Brazil, and many businesses are closed Friday. Oliveira says he’s just praying things are back to normal on Monday. “Hopefully it ends soon,” he says with a shrug. “What else can I do?”

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