Public transport in Rio is a good alternative for getting to know the city without spending too much money, since most tourist attractions are closer to more than one means of transportation. People who know fares, times of operation, and other details about the varied means available are able to visit more landmarks while spending less money and wasting less time. This guide was created to provide you with this kind of information so your trip can be much cheaper, more enjoyable, and safe. Click on the maps to zoom in and enlarge it to zoom further. We remind you that the fares and schedules below may be changed by their providers without prior notice. We suggest you check the official links for any changes before scheduling a tour.
Public Transport Cards
Most means of transportation in Rio accept rechargeable prepaid transport cards as a payment method. However, since nothing in Rio is that simple, there are many cards available for both cariocas -the citizens- and tourists, and even though most of them are called Bilhete Único, they’re all, in fact, complementary. Aside from the VLT, every means of transportation in Rio has a turnstile and a ticket collector who sells those tickets and controls the access to the transport, each in their own way.
The Bilhete Único is the most attractive option for tourists, since it does not require a national ID card (CPF) for its purchase and use. This City Pass is also known as Bilhete Único Carioca Prepaid; it’s not accepted at subway stations, which sell their own prepaid cards. The national tourist, if they wish to, may link their CPF to their Bilhete Único (as in the instructions on the website below) to use it on the subway as well. If you want to skip that long process, linking your CPF also grants you discounts in some tickets and transfer stations. Then, considering most tourist attractions in the city are near subway stations and that, in addition, we suggest tourists to not travel by bus in the city of Rio de Janeiro due to safety and traffic issues, the boarding card is probably more useful for both our national and foreign visitors, which is the prepaid card offered by Rio’s subway system.
The subway prepaid card can be bought at almost any subway station at automated machines and is sold for 5 reais. The minimum reload is also 5 reais. The credits technically do not expire. This card is accepted only on subway stations and tramcars (buses that drive through different parts of the South side and go beyond the subway tracks). This track is not charged if you’re riding from the subway. However, these extensions are different from an integration. The first is considered a follow-up from your previous trip, while the second is considered a connection to a destination a bit further, which is charged according to that destination.
In any case, if the visitor chooses to use buses, boats, or trains as a public transport in Rio, the best way around the city of Rio de Janeiro is the Prepaid Bilhete Único Carioca, which grants discounts in case a second trip is made up to two and a half hours after the first. This prepaid card can be bought at RioCard stores, which is the company that manages these cards. Check this link to find a store close to you and some instructions on how to have the card linked to your CPF. If you wish to use transit in Niterói, there’s a specific Bilhete Único for that city. If you wish to visit Rio’s neighboring cities, there’s the alternative of buying an Intercity Bilhete Único, both sold at a RioCard store. The customer service by phone of RioCard / Bilhete Único is +55 21 2127 4000
For the Rio Olympics 2016, there will be a special prepaid boarding card for sale for 25 reais for a day, 70 reais for three days, and 160 reais for seven days. These cards allow you to use every means of transportation related to the arrival at game locations and are valid from August 1st to September 18th, until the end of the Paralympics. They can be bought at via web, with national delivery upon fee payment. City Hall has decided that the day counter will start upon the card’s validation on its first use, regardless of the time of the day, and will be valid until 11:59pm of that same day, with a short window of two extra hours before the service is blocked. The three and seven day card expiration dates are counted from the first day of use and in consecutive days, and have their use shut down the same way as the one-day card.
City Hall also decided that it will be possible to buy these special cards on site from July 15 in automated machines placed at strategic locations in the city with a high flow of foot traffic, as well as at BRT, train, and metro stations with the addition of RioCard stores and reloading machines in the city and Metropolitan areas. After the Olympic Games are over, the cards can be used the same way as RioCard Express cards, from September 19 onwards. We remind you that it won’t be possible to get to the game locations using private cars (this city measure, in theory, also rules out the access of Uber cars to these locations).
The Subway as a Public Transport in Rio
Copacabana Beach and Ipanema Beach are some of the Rio neighborhoods near the subway. The service introduced in the city in 1979 now has 20 stations on Lane 1 (which serves the South Side) and 16 on Lane 2 (which serves the North Side), and 5 on Lane 4 (which serves the South Zone and Barra da Tijuca). The cars ride along the 42 kilometers of railroads from 5am to midnight from Mondays to Saturdays and from 7am to 11pm on Sundays and holidays. The trains run the 16 kilometers of subway line 4 from Monday to Saturday from 6am to 9pm, not working on Sundays. The interval between trains may vary between 2:15 and 4:30 minutes. The fares cost 4.10 reais.
The subway Lane 4 is the most recent expansion of the system and connects Barra da Tijuca to Ipanema. Nowadays, the subway is the most efficient means of transportation in Rio, and we believe you should always consider it when planning your tours. If you need specific information, check their official website. The subway customer service phone number is +55 0800 595 1111.
Trains as Public Transport in Rio
The Maracanã Stadium, the Quinta da Boa Vista and the Penha Church are tourist attractions in Rio that can be reached by train. These railways have been working since 1858 and today have 102 stations spread along 12 cities in the Metropolitan area. Its 270 kilometers of railways have trains moving around in intervals that vary from six minutes to one hour, depending on where you are. The basic fare is 3.70 reais, but if you include a connection with city buses it’s 6.60 reais, or 6.50 reais with the subway or intercity buses.
The railroad system of Rio is managed by a company called SuperVia, and the main connection stations with the subway are the Central and São Cristóvão. The trains move around from 4am to 10:45pm from Monday to Friday, and from 6am to 10pm on weekends. Plan your trips here. The SuperVia customer service phone number is +55 0800 726 9494.
Boats as Public Transport in Rio
The Paquetá Island is a city landmark that can only be reached by boat. The fares cost 5.60 reais. The trips take around one hour and take place between 5:30am and 7:20pm on weekdays, or 6am and 9:40pm on weekends. The boats depart from Praça XV, in Rio Center, where other ships also depart heading to Niterói, Ilha do Governador, and other destinations with different schedules and fares. The best connection is with the Carioca subway station or the VLT.
The access to Ilha Grande, to the south, can also be made by boats deaprting from Mangaratiba and Angra dos Reis (cities that can only be reached by intercity buses departing from the city Bus Station or at the Menezes Côrtes terminal, in the city center). The fare is 15 reais and the trip takes around 80 minutes. Full information about schedules, destinations, and fares. The Barcas S.A. customer service phone number is +55 0900 721 1012.
Santa Teresa Tram as Public Transport in Rio
The Santa Teresa Tram is one of Rio’s famous locations. The vehicle has been moving around the neighborhood since 1896 and today has 10 kilometers of rails. The service was halted in 2011 after an accident. Since then, the whole railway has been undergoing a renewal; new rails and modern cars were put to work and the service was partly reopened in 2015. New tracks have been added since then. The best connection is at Carioca subway station or the VLT and Cinelândia, also on the subway. The transport is, so far, free and works daily from 11am and 4pm. The Tram customer service phone number is +55 21 2215 8559.
Cable Cars as Public Transport in Rio
Rio’s most famous Cable Car is that of Sugarloaf Mountain, and does not need to be introduced. It has three stations that ride along around 1,300 meters. It works every day from 8am to 7:50pm and has free admission for children under 6 years old, but may cost up to 76 reais for adults who can’t get discounts. However, this cable car is considered a tourist attraction and is not a public transport per se. The Sugarloaf Mountain customer service number is +55 21 2546 8400.
Although it’s been a controversial construction in the city, the Cable Car of Alemão changed the landscape of several favelas within the Alemão Complex, located on the North Side of Rio. This public transport, which has six stations along 3.5 kilometers, was opened in 2011 and has brought several benefits to the locals with additional construction and works. The fare is 5 reais for visitors without a Bilhete Único linked to their CPF. The best connection is at the train station Bonsucesso. The Alemão Cable Car customer service phone number is the same as SuperVia, +55 0800 726 9494.
Providência Cable Cars is at Porto Maravilha and was opened in 2014. This mode of transportation connects Praça Américo Brum, on top of Providência mountain, to the areas of Central do Brasil and Gamboa, both in Rio center. The best connection is either through the train or subway stations Central, which have the same name. The trip is, so far, free and covers 720 meters through 3 stations that work from Monday to Friday from 7am to 7pm and Saturdays from 8am to 2pm. The Providência customer service phone number is +55 21 2153 1400.
Bus as Public Transport in Rio
The Botanic Garden, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Praça Mauá are some of the tourist attractions served by city buses. Over 500 lanes that move around the city have a standard fare of 3.80 reais. Several lines work 24 hours a day; however, with bigger intervals between them. The bus service connects with every other transport system, and that’s why many services offer special tickets combined with a bus trip. The city bus’s customer service phone number is +55 0800 886 1000.
In 2011, City Hall created the BRS system (Bus Rapid Service), which already has 11 highway corridors for buses that work from 6am to 9pm on business days and to 2pm on Saturdays. They’re exclusive lanes for buses, taxis, and state vehicles along the city.
This, however, affects how the bus stops are spread along the BRS, since each bus can only stop at locations with the same number shown on its windshield. It’s recommended that tourists who wish to embark on or disembark from a bus of the BRS system verify if their number is the same as the bus stop you wish to arrive at. Plan your trip here, for both BRS and regular trips.
Since the entire city is not covered by the BRS system, it’s necessary to verify where there are the old blue signs for regular bus stops. In these cases, almost every bus that rides the route should stop at this point. We’re sorry, but many bus stops have no signs whatsoever, and you need to track where these vehicles are stopping at and find the right place to embark. Or if you see a group of people standing near the street, apparently with no reason and looking against the car flow and following it, ask if that place is your bus stop. Buses that drive along the BRS system stop at regular points when they’re driving along regular roads. Warning: remember to be very clear when you want the bus to stop for you to board it, because they won’t stop if you don’t signal them.
The bus system is the most used means of transportation by Rio citizens in their daily routines. However, they’re least recommended for tourists for the same reason they’re not recommended to citizens either, but we can’t choose most of the time. The reasons are serious safety issues during the trips (thefts, pickpocketing, etc.), wasting too much time in traffic, too hot or too cold temperatures inside the buses, and burned out or disrespectful drivers, among others.
Bad habits may disturb the relationship between drivers and Rio citizens: the former want to hop on and off the bus whenever they feel like it, and it’s usually in places where it’s not a bus stop. Do not do that. It’s risky to hop off in the middle of the road, away from the sidewalk. Drivers, on the other hand, have been very burned out lately because the traffic in Rio is extremely stressful. Also, they drive too fast (when they can) and brake abruptly. Hold tight if you choose to ride on a bus in Rio, which is not recommended for the elderly and people with disabilities.
Taxis and Uber as Public Transport in Rio
Rio has a great fleet of common taxis (yellow with blue stripes), and already has Uber drivers, who together offer tourists alternatives that complete the public transport in the city. Although it’s a decent alternative safety and comfort-wise, as well as when you need to customize your trip, the price is significantly higher. Transportation by taxis or Uber is also under the influence of Rio’s unbearable traffic. In Rio, taxis work 24 hours a day and can be flagged down on the street, not only at taxi stands. Special, luxury taxis can be requested by phone to specific companies.
The “bandeirada”, the initial value that will be added to your fare at the end of the ride, costs 5.40 reais in Rio. The cheapest fare, called “bandeira 1”, costs 2.30 reais for every kilometer traveled (from Monday to Sunday, from 6am to 9pm). The most expensive, called “bandeira 2”, costs 2.76 reais for every kilometer ridden (from Monday to Sunday, from 9pm to 6am, and the whole day on Sundays and holidays). Drivers are allowed to charge you a “bandeira 2” fare on steep slopes. “Bandeira” is the number to the left of the fare’s value. The taximeter also calculates the fractions of idle or waiting time, which cost 28.98 reais for a full hour. If your luggage is over 60cm wide and 30cm long you’ll be charged an extra 2.30 reais per luggage piece that exceeds this dimension, provided that the luggage is carried by the driver. The city taxis’ customer service phone number is +55 21 1746 and is provided by the City Hall of Rio de Janeiro.
Here’s a popular app in Rio for requesting a taxi on smartphones. Also, check the fare calculator of your taxi ride and the route they’ll likely take. If you’re still not familiar with Uber, here is the link to the smartphone app. Uber does not offer a phone number for customer service in Rio de Janeiro, but the email firstname.lastname@example.org is already available for matters in the city and there’s the official help section, as well as the help built into the app.
BRTs as Public Transport in Rio
The BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) are articulated buses with a higher passenger capacity that drive along exclusive highways. The Barra Beach and the Galeão Airport are some stops covered by the BRT Transcarioca. The express line created for buses in 2014 is 39 kilometers wide, covers 27 neighborhoods and has 47 stations. The fare is 3.80 reais, the same value of the BRT Transoeste. This other express line drives along 52 kilometers on the West Side and has 57 stations. There’s also the Transolímpico, which connects the Olympic Games Center to Jardim Oceânico.
Four other BRT routes will be working during the Olympic Games only. The first will connect Vila Militar to Recreio dos Bandeirantes and should work 24 hours a day following the route of Transolímpico. There will be a line connecting the Olympic Center to Jardim Oceânico, which is supposed to work 24 hours a day. The third provisional route is the Olympic Center-Vicente de Carvalho, which will work from 5am to 2am through Transolímpico and BRT Transcarioca. The fourth route will only operate during game days, from 5am to 6pm, and will connect the Olympic golf course to Jardim Oceânico.
Many changes on the BRT lines are still happening in the period before the Olympic Games and should continue to happen during the competitions, so we suggest you also follow the official BRT website and plan your trip. The BRT customer service cell phone is +55 0800 886 1000.
VLT as Public Transport in Rio
The VLT (Light Rail) is intended to connect the city center to the port region over a 28 kilometer track with 32 stops. Costing 3.80 reais, there are no turnstiles or ticket collectors on these trains, so your trip must be validated using a Bilhete Único. A monitoring team will charge a 170 reais fine in case the traveler doesn’t validate their ticket. The plan is to integrate the public transport system in the area: subway, trains, boats, cable cars, BRTs, bus lines, and the Santos Dumont Airport. When fully operational, the system should work 24/7.
Today, July 2016, the VLT works from 8am to 8pm with some stations open from Monday to Friday and others every day (check the map above). Specific information can be found at their official website or by calling their customer service at +55 0800 000 0858.
What Nobody Talks About
- Public transport in Rio de Janeiro is one of the main causes of stress for its citizens. The construction underway for the Rio Olympics 2016, all happening at once, has transformed the city into a huge building site. Although the expected result is potentially very beneficial, living the city routine and commuting near these construction sites requires a lot of patience with the noise, dirt, and missing information due to the delayed works.
- Despite the continued governmental efforts and the amount of money invested to improve Rio’s transportation system, many citizens still take two hours a day to commute, and this issue may also affect tourists who use the same mode of transport, primarily the city bus terminal.
- Adding to this issue the fact of constantlyresetting of bus schedules in the city, cancellations and the shortening of bus lines, the public transport system of buses is number one in complaints. The amount of changes is so big that a huge part of the citizens had to relearn how to take the bus in the city, and many still don’t know where they’re going.
- For visitors who have a choice, use the subway as your public transport in Rio. It’s still is the safest, fastest, and most reliable way of moving around. We know the perfect scenario for the tourist would be to travel above ground and not beneath it, but we believe the odds of wasting too much time, patience, and money stuck in traffic will compensate for the underground time.
- But even the subway has its issues: The stations and trains get too crowded during rush hours (from 8am to 9am and from 5pm to 6pm). Avoid moving around the city during these hours. The subway has a nice initiative of having a car on the trains exclusively for women, with the goal of preventing disrespectful actions towards women on its crowded trains. From 6am to 8am and from 5pm to 8pm on business days, men are not allowed on cars with the aforementioned sign and may be fined up to 1,090 reais. Visitors, please respect the women’s car.
- The public train system – which often works with significant delays (over 20 minutes) is under operational difficulties due to the use of old, dirty cars where goods are sold all the time by street vendors, and also because of safety issues (thefts and pickpocketing) and due to getting excessively crowded during the commute of citizens. Avoid public transport during these hours. Aside from that, they’re a quick way of covering ground to the city areas where the subway does not go or that would take too long to be accessed by bus due to the increasing traffic jams in the main streets of the city. As in the subway, the trains also have an exclusive car for women, which aims to prevent disrespectful actions towards them on crowded trains. From 6am to 8am and from 5pm to 8pm on business days, men are not allowed on cars with the aforementioned sign and may be fined up to 1,090 reais. Visitors, please respect the women’s car.
- It’s necessary to have some idea of the course the taxi will take because, unfortunately, bad drivers usually unecessarely extend the trips or turn off the taximeter, which is forbidden in the city. Or, they use a more expensive fare (bandeira) for the trip, or overprice the extra charge for luggages.
- It’s important for you to know that there’s bitterness between taxi and Uber drivers, since in almost every city these two are competing for clients. In Rio de Janeiro there are still many protests by taxi drivers and conflicts with Uber drivers. However, these conflicts are not because of our visitors. If you see someone involved in a misunderstanding between two drivers, it’s best to not choose a side and move away from the dispute.
- We do not recommend the use of vans and Kombis, called “lotação” or “lotadas”, as a mode of public transport in the city of Rio de Janeiro except when there’s no other alternatives or it’s an exclusive service, as in the official vans to Christ the Redeemer or hotel/inn transports, which are in charge of their vehicles. Even though the van service as public transport in Rio is allowed by City Hall, but the monitoring of this mode and its drivers is very poor, allowing illegal vehicles and amateur drivers to infiltrate into the system.
- Despite being a highly expected tour for some international tourists, we do not recommend favela tours. Considering that, although part of the media says they’re safe locations, citizens know this is not entirely true. Favelas are still dangerous places for everyone, including residents. In this context, we suggest you be very careful if you wish to visit the cable cars in the Alemão Complex, which is the largest favela complex in Rio de Janeiro and has areas which police themselves can barely reach. This includes the Gamboa area, regarding Providência cable cars. Both areas are not safe and are very respected by citizens that move around and are never out and about.
- Along with the tips in this Public Transport in Rio Guide, you may also be interested in the partnership created between Rio’s City Hall and the app Moovit, which aims to connect every mode of transport available in the city and offers courses that combine them in different manners. However, since the city’s transport database integration is very new we recommend you compare the courses suggested by the app with the information given by a trustworthy citizen. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to see tourists that, following directions and routes given by apps, end up in dangerous areas of the city. Check if these apps have an option to assess safety and convenience matters to create the perfect course they suggest.
Credits for the used images in this Public Transport in Rio article: Brtrio.com, CCR Barcas, Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz, Metrorio.com.br, Rio.rj.gov.br, Tania Rego, Vltrio.com.br