Brazilian Town Overrun by Motorbikes


Image credit: Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times

Brazilian Town Overrun by Motorbikes
Tabatinga, Brazil, is a town of 47,000 people that, in most respects, is like any other Amazonian outpost, except Tabatinga "is practically a city run entirely by motorbikes." In fact, the town's 47,000 residents own more than 15,000 motorbikes, creating "a sea of scooters and motorcycles" during rush hour. What's more, the incredible growth in motorbike ownership has "helped fuel the growth of the city, which has doubled in population in the past 20 years."

What's perhaps most interesting is why the motorbikes have become so popular in this town that borders Columbia and Peru. Whereas we have seen how in Iraq, for instance, scooters are the best way to get around town because they are the best way of navigating through endless checkpoints and traffic, in Tapatinga's case, the dominating factor seems to be that the bikes are cheap.

Strong Economy and Proximity to Borders
There are two factors that make the bikes so cheap. First, "the relative strength of the Brazilian economy and its currency, the real, has made it easier for Brazilians to afford motorbikes." Second, "The open border with Leticia, Colombia, allows Brazilians to buy Japanese-made motorbikes there for about $2,000, half of what they cost in Brazil. Chinese-made models, which are less popular, can be had for as little as $900 ."

If that isn't enough, financing the purchase of a motorbike is extremely easy. People often only need to put down 30 percent, and they "pay in up to 24 installments." Fuel is cheap in Brazil, thanks to subsidies for ethanol and other government policies, and the town doesn't require "motorbikes to be registered or residents to wear helmets," further lowering the cost of ownership.

The upshot for me of this article is twofold. On the one hand, it is fascinating to see how globalization and global markets impact towns around the world. Think about it: a sleepy town in the Amazonian jungle comes alive with the roar of Japanese and Chinese motorcycles. On the other hand, I am once again struck by how easy it is to buy and finance things--such as inefficient motorbikes or sub-prime mortgages--that are not helpful to the climate (in the case of the bikes) or to individuals (in the case of the mortgages). The green revolution will have really arrived when it will be as easy to finance a green home or a green mode of transportation as it was to finance an inefficient home or car before the credit crisis. After all, shouldn't it be as easy to get a loan to install a rooftop solar thermal or solar photovoltaic array as it is to get a loan to buy the house in the first place? (See SolarCity for an innovative financing model for residential solar)

Via: NY Times
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Tags: Brazil | Driving | Transportation