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Free Riding Rio: Protest, Public Transport and the Politics of a Footboard

Kemmer, Laura

This article explores the political quality of relations between residents and urban materiality. Against a background of mass protests against transit fare increases in major Brazilian cities, and the violent infrastructural transformations of post‐Olympic Rio de Janeiro, I show how the four‐year suspension of a central city tramline has led to the emergence of new forms of urban collectivity. My case study concentrates on the tramway’s function as “free riding” device, which allows residents to jump on and off the footboard without having to pay for the journey. I draw on filmed accounts of footboard‐riding to examine how embodied relations to urban matter have induced claims for alternative ways of organizing public transport and access to the city. By combining approaches to assemblage, micropolitics and affect, I argue that residents’ attachments to the tramway and its latest technological changes generate ambiguous political mobilizations, ranging from revolutionary to reactionary.
Published in: City & Society, 10.1111/ciso.12245, Wiley