Getting Around Sao Paulo: Guide to Public Transportation

Trem - Guarulhos Airport - Train
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Brazil’s financial capital, Sao Paulo, has a reputation for speed and efficiency, both in business and public transport. The Sao Paulo Metropolitan Rail Transport Network, comprised of 15 lines and nearly 200 stations, is the largest urban rail system in Latin America, transporting five million passengers daily. Though some stations are huge, they’re easy to navigate, and signs are in both English and Portuguese. Other than Ubers or taxis, the metro will most likely be your best and cheapest option for getting around during your stay in Sao Paulo.

How to Ride the Sao Paulo Metro

Everyone takes the Metro, especially now that more sanctions have been put in place on what vehicles can be on the roads during rush hour. Here's how to navigate it so you can get to where you need to go.

  • Fare rates: A single ride ticket costs 4.30 reals ($0.79), regardless of trip time or distance traveled.
  • Different types of fares: Brazilian citizens can get smart card transportation passes with discounts, but these are not available for tourists without Brazilian government-issued IDs. If you plan on making multiple trips in the same day, you can save time by buying all your tickets at once.
  • How to pay: Purchase tickets at the ticket booths inside the Metro stations. Tickets can only be purchased using cash (reals). Use small bills and coins, as ticket sellers are not required to make change for any bill over 20 reals. Credit or debit cards are not accepted.
  • Hours of operation: Lines operate from 4:40 a.m. until 12 a.m. Sunday through Friday, as well as holidays. On Saturdays, lines run from 4:40 a.m. until 1 a.m.; however, a few stations do not open until 10 a.m., while others do not run between the hours of 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Rush hour: Sao Paulo’s infamous traffic is the worst on weekdays from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Severe weather, like heavy rain, can lengthen these times, making the evening
    rush hour last until 10 p.m. or later.
  • Transfer tip: Wear good walking shoes. Some stations are huge, and you might end up taking escalators for five floors.
  • Accessibility: Stations have elevators and many have wheelchair ramps. Some stations have times for preferential boarding for the elderly, those with babies, the obese, pregnant women, and anyone with mobility restrictions. All of these groups may use the preferential seats in the train cars, as well as purchase tickets and go through the turnstiles without having to wait in the main lines. Guide dogs are allowed on the trains.

You can download the Sao Paulo Metro app or use the trip planner on the Sao Paulo Metro site to plan your route and find out real-time departure/arrival information.

Taking Taxis

Sao Paulo has tons of taxis. Hail them in person or request one through an app. The 99 taxi app and Easy Taxi app are two of the most popular.

Fares are comprised of a start fee (4.50 reals), kilometer fee, and wait time fee (33 reals per hour). The kilometer fee can be confusing, as it has two options, or bandeiradas. The first is 2.75 reals per kilometer, and is for taxis taken between Monday and Saturday during the day. The second is 30 percent more than the first, and is for taxis taken on Sunday, holidays, Monday to Saturday from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., and the month of December. In an effort to help cabs compete with Uber, charging the second bandeirada is now optional; you can ask the driver to only charge you for first bandeirada.

If a meter is broken or a driver refuses to use it, get out and get another taxi. Tipping is not common (unless your driver had to wait a long time), but it is appreciated.

Ride-Sharing Apps

Uber is legal and easy to find at Sao Paulo's airports and throughout the city. Ubers can be cheaper than taxis but not always. Compare Uber with the prices on the 99 taxi app to find the best deal. However, taxis have one advantage over Uber in that they can use the bus lanes while Ubers cannot. If you have to travel during rush hour, this can make a huge difference, and might even be cheaper than Uber due to surge pricing.

Riding the Bus

Over 8.8 million passengers daily ride Sao Paulo’s 16,000 buses, which have 1,300 lines driving across 393 miles of bus lanes. SPTrans operates most of the buses and has info about routes on their site. Fares start at 4.40 reals ($0.82). Watch out for pickpockets, especially on crowded buses.

Airport Transport

There are three airports that serve the greater Sao Paulo metropolitan area. Here's how to get to the city from each one:

From Guarulhos International Airport

  • Metro: Line 13 goes directly from outside the airport's cargo terminal. Ride until the end of the line at Engenheiro Goulart station (about 15 minutes). From the station, get on Line 3 at Tautape station, then transfer at Se station to Line 1 to reach the city center. Plan for two hours for the total trip. 
  • Shuttle: The Airport Bus Service bus connects Guarulhos to Paulista Avenue, Tietê Bus Terminal, and Congonhas Airport for 30 to 39 reals ($5.40 to $7). Depending on where you want to go, the travel time is one to two hours.

From Congonhas Airport

  • Bus/Metro: Take the bus for route 609J-10 directly outside the arrivals hall. Ride until the Sao Judas station on Metro Line 1 (about 15 minutes), then take the line to the city center. Plan at least a total trip time of 30 minutes.
  • Shuttle: Same as Guarulhos. Also, Gol and TAM offer a free shuttle from Congonhas to Guarulhos, for passengers with connecting flights. They run on the half hour from 5: 30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. To board, show your reservation to the driver.

From Viracopos Airport

  • Bus/Metro: Take a VB Transportes bus (24 reals / $4.50) to Tietê Terminal. From here, hop on Metro Line 1 and continue to the city center. The trip should be about an hour and 40 minutes.
  • Shuttle: Azul Brazilian Airlines offers a free shuttle to Congonhas, Barra Funda Terminal, Eldorado, and Tamboré Shopping Malls. To board, show your reservation to the driver.

Renting a Car

You can easily rent a car in Sao Paulo. However, given the city’s bumper-to-bumper rush hour and heavy rainstorms, most tourists prefer to use the Metro or Uber instead of drive. If you do rent a car, be aware of the road restrictions in place for the rodízio veicular; this program reduces traffic (and thus air pollution) by limiting what cars can be on the road during the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. during the week. Plates ending in 1 and 2 are banned on Mondays, 3 and 4 on Tuesdays, 5 and 6 on Wednesdays, 7 and 8 on Thursdays, and 9 and 0 on Fridays.

Bikes

Sao Paulo has 290 miles of bike lanes and great cycle paths like the Ciclovia Rio Pinheiros, a 13.35-mile route that follows the river and goes across the city. However, the current bikeshare program, Bike Itau by Tembici, is not tourist-friendly. The Bike Itau app doesn’t accept foreign cards and has a horrible user interface. Should you want a bike, check with your hotel or Airbnb about rentals from local companies, or book a bike tour.

Tips for Getting Around Sao Paulo

  • All transfers between train stations are free except at Tatuapé and Corinthians-Itaquera stations during rush hour.
  • Femitaxi is a taxi company in which all the drivers are women. It was created after female passengers cited problems with male taxi drivers.
  • The Metro trains slow down when it rains, especially on Line 3, as much of it is an open air track.
  • While buses still operate after the Metro shuts down (12 a.m. or 1 a.m. depending on the day), taking an Uber will be the easiest option to get home.
  • To reach the Interlagos race track for the Brazilian Grand Prix, take Metro Line 9 to the Autodromo stop, then walk the 600 meters to the track’s entrance.
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