Brasília was planned to be a city where transit flows smoothly. Lucio Costa planned the streets in such a way that even traffic lights would not be necessary: cars and buses would take thoroughfares to displace long distances, then would use one of several loops to gain access to local streets to reach specific destinations.
Much of the original planning had to be changed, mostly because of the growth of Brasília. Lúcio Costa didn't foresee such a quick growth in the Pilot Plan, much less the explosive growth in the Satellite cities. Brasília today has traffic lights as any other city; there is a scarcity of parking places; traffic jam is usual at peak hours, particularly in some busier loops.
However, even though the present situation is not as planned by Costa, transit in Brasília is still much better than in other major Brazilian cities. There is a stricter enforcement of the law, which results in better educated drivers (Brasília is one of the few cities in Brazil where drivers stop in a cross walking). The streets are usually in good shape, which minimizes accidents.
Still, the main reason for Brasilia having a better transit is Lucio Costa's plan; vehicles still make use of the system of thoroufares, loops and local streets to reach their destinations.
The main thoroughfare is the Eixão (Eixo Rodoviário, in Costa's Plan). It is a high speed highway which cuts Brasilia from North to South, three lanes each way; except for a few spots in the central area, there are no traffic lights in the Eixão. Parallel to the Eixão, there are two Eixinhos (small Axis), which facilitates the access to loops and eventually to local streets. The image to the left shows the Eixão, the Eixinhos and loops heading to local Commercial blocks.
The other major thoroughfare is the Monumental Axis, which cuts the Pilot Plan from East to West. The Monumental is wider and busier than the Eixão; there are a few traffic lights along the Monumental.
The other two important avenues of the Pilot Plan are the W3, which runs west of the Eixão, parallel to it, and L2, which runs east of the Eixão. Most bus lines going from North to South use W3 and L2, rather than the Eixão (vehicles are not allowed to stop along the Eixão).
The main bus hub in Brasília is the Central Bus Station, located in the crossing of the Monumental Axis and the Eixão, about 2 km from the Three Powers Plaza. The idea of the original planning was to have a bus station as near as possible of every corner of the Pilot Plan.
Today, the bus station is hub of urban buses only, some of which run within the Pilot Plan and others which connects the Pilot Plan to the Satellite cities. In the original plan, the inter-State buses should also stop at the central Station; however, because of the excessive growth of Brasilia (and the corresponding growth in the bus fleet), today the inter-State buses leave from the inter-State station, located at the western end of the Monumental Axis.
Notice, also, that the metro of Brasilia has a station in the bus station.
The photos above show buses in the Central Bus Station of Brasilia. The black building in the background of the photo to the left is the head office of the Central Bank of Brazil.
The bus station is very crowded during the day; beware of pick pockets. During the night, the area is best avoided.
Brazilian urban buses are far inferior to those which run in USA and Europe. Buses of Brasilia are, in average, newer than those of major Brazilian cities.
Likewise, bus stops in Brasilia are slightly better than in other major Brazilian cities (see photo).
The bus grid of Brasilia is comprehensive; most of the Pilot Plan can be reached with just one bus, leaving from the central station; also, there are buses to all satellite cities.
Within the Pilot Plan, the two most important highways are the W3 and the L2; these highways run in parallel to the Eixão (see notes on transportation).
Some particularly useful bus routes are the Grande Circular (Big Circular), which rings all along the W3 and L2 (in both directions), and the W3-L2 North and South, which run only the Northern or Southern rings.
Bus fares depend on the distance the bus covers. Buses coming from and to the satellite cities are usually a few nickels more expensive. In 2005, prices varied from R$ 1,50 to R$ 2,50 (between US$ 0,70 and US$ 1,00).
A few tips about hiring a taxi in Brasilia:
Maybe a taxi isn't necessary; buses in Brasilia are comprehensive, safe and reasonably comfortable. Brasilia has also a metro, which is quick and clean.
Distances in Brasilia are longer than it seems. Blocks in Brasilia are large. Often, it is necessary to take loops and detours to reach a specific building in an specific block. Taxi drivers are not very concerned in taking the shortest route. Even though fares are cheaper than in developed countries, the cost of hiring taxis may easily build up.
Prices: the 12 km between the airport and the central bus station may reach R$ 30. A ride between the hotels sector and the Three Powers Square costs between R$ 5 and R$ 10 (depending on the hotel).
Best practice in Brasília regarding taxis: make use of radio-taxis. Most radio taxis in Brasilia give discounts between 30% and 50% (no need of pre-registering, frequent using, etc). Practically every taxi in Brasilia has a radio on board; because of this, there is usually a taxi in the neighbourhood, and it won' take long for it to reach you; besides, the radio adds to the safety of the taxi (easier to call for help).
The Tourist Offices have a list of radio-taxis. Ask for help to find one where at least the operators speak English. If you come across a driver you find reliable, ask for a card. Taxi business in Brasilia seem to be profitable; the market is in favour of buyers.
The Brasilia metro is not much comprehensive (buses may be a better way to get around the Pilot Plan).
The metro leaves from the Rodoviaria (bus station) and goes only southwards. It doesn't go to most of political and tourist spots of Brasília.
The main purpose of the metro is to serve the population of the largest satellite cities, such as Guará, Águas Claras, Samambaia, Taguatinga and Ceilândia. The satellite cities are more populated than the Pilot Plan (the census of 2000 indicated that Ceilândia had 344,039 inhabitants, Taguatinga had 243,575, whereas the Pilot Plan had around 200,000 inhabitants), and most residents of the satellite cities depend on public transportation.
Free of transit contraints, the metro is a very quick means of transportation. Besides, it is clean and safe. The flat fare is R$ 1,90, less than US$ 1 (there are discounts for return and multiple trips).
Notice that, as informed by the graph above, most stations within the Pilot Plan (the ones marked with a green ball) are not operational yet. Also, the stretch between Taguatinga and Ceilândia is under construction.