Bus strike paralyzes Brazil's biggest city as World Cup looms

Union negotiated 10 per cent salary hike, but some factions want more

SAO PAULO (Reuters) — Bus drivers in São Paulo went on strike for a second day on Wednesday, snarling transit and leaving hundreds of thousands stranded in South America's largest city less than a month before it hosts the opening World Cup soccer match.

Drivers and fare collectors following a dissident faction of the local union walked off the job on Tuesday, leaving vehicles parked on major roads and closing more than half the terminals in Brazil's business capital without giving warning of the imminent gridlock.

The strike in São Paulo, generally one of Brazil's most orderly cities, highlights growing uncertainty over the country's ability to pull off one of the world's largest sporting events in 12 cities. Many soccer fans are expected to rely on public transportation to get to stadiums on game days.

São Paulo has limited metro service and its train stations were dangerously overcrowded on Tuesday, with passengers nearly crushed on escalators during the evening rush hour. As commuters resorted to cars, local media reported 260 kilometers (162 miles) of gridlock throughout the city.

Last week a similar bus strike in Rio de Janeiro, which will host the 2016 Olympics as well as World Cup matches, left thousands stranded and some 300 vehicles vandalized.

Civil and federal police were also on strike in other parts of the country on Wednesday. When military police walked off the job in recent weeks in Salvador and Recife on the northeastern coast, also World Cup host cities, there were reports of widespread looting and homicides.

Because the bus strike was started by a dissident faction within the São Paulo driver's union and not the union itself, the city government has been able to do no more than condemn it. The city had negotiated a 10 per cent salary raise with the official union on Monday, but some factions wanted more.

Though some buses were running on Wednesday, at least 12 garages remained closed. Acts of vandalism were reported, including buses set on fire. It is unclear when the strike will end.

Many new public transport projects promised for the World Cup have not been started and many are unfinished, leading to widespread anger over the cost of building or renovating stadiums that have become symbols of waste.

The broken promises contributed to waves of street protests last year and have hurt the popularity of President Dilma Rousseff ahead of elections in October. Another wave of protests could further hamper transportation when the games start, and also threaten Rousseff's re-election bid.

São Paulo will host the opening match between Brazil and Croatia on June 12 at a new stadium that has been criticized for costing too much to build and also for driving up property values and pricing long-time residents out of a working-class neighbourhood.

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