The Bus Magnate and the Vinyl Collection You Bought Him

Twenty cents of real (roughly 8 cents of a dollar) brought millions of people onto the streets in Brazil in July 2013. Those twenty cents channeled all popular dissatisfaction, directed all anger to the streets and showed the government’s ineptitude in dealing with the Brazilian people’s problems. Only twenty cents. An increase in the bus fare from R$ 3,00 to R$ 3,20 (or roughly $1.32 to $1.40). About 6%.

Some made fun of the tiny increase that revolted many. But most Brazilians knew better: The 20 cents only rubbed it in. People would pay more to ride overcrowded buses slugging through hours of traffic jams with no comfort nor alternatives. Soon protesters started explaining that it wasn’t about the 20 cents. It was the principle; the idea that an increase in 20 cents was but the tipping point of a larger social issue, a wider and systemic problem.

But, in the end, it was 20 cents.

Fast-forward to 2014, and recently the New York Times published a story (“The Brazilian Bus Magnate Who’s Buying Up All the World’s Vinyl Records“, August 8) on the Sao Paulo bus magnate who owns an astonishing vinyl disc collection. It’s impossible to exaggerate the extent of the collection held by Zero Freitas, 62, owner of a bus company that serves Sao Paulo’s suburbs: He himself is only able to estimate that he possesses “several million” discs.

Freitas doesn’t hold back in his obsession. He has never sold an album, not even duplicates, and buys from all over the world. He has imported around 100,000 discs from Cuba. He employs a dozen interns to catalog the albums that he keeps in a huge warehouse. He doesn’t discriminate between music styles: According to the Times story, not even polka albums are safe from his hoarding impetus.

Zero Freitas is indeed a curious figure, a Roberto Carlos fan who wears a common t-shirt and khaki shorts, sports a hippie style and has an unlimited budget for buying discs.

The Times story, however, left out a very interesting part of Freitas’s trajectory in their attempt to find a more humanized angle: His company is part of one of the most criminal oligopolies in Brazil.

You don’t have to believe me, but you should believe the millions of people who took the streets in 2013. All the people who ride buses daily like canned meat in Sao Paulo and in the rest of Brazil prove that public transportation is not the most honest line of business nowadays.

Their drivers and ticket collectors went on strikes for better pay and working conditions in May 2014, September 2013, May 2012, February 2012, and July 2011 — I’m limiting myself to the last 4 years.

What the story neglected is that the company headed by Freitas acts in a market that not only curbs the attempts of new competitors to enter the market, but also restricts any and all alternative modes of transportation in the capital. Vans and mototaxis are unheard of in Sao Paulo. Licenses for new cabs cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Uber, which has just arrived, is being chased off already.

Not only public transportation alternatives are suppressed: Sao Paulo even lives with road rationing since 1997, which bans the circulation of given cars on certain days of the week in parts of the city, making private vehicles even less attractive (though still a better alternative to public transportation, as Sao Paulo’s record traffic jams show).

From all sides, Sao Paulo dwellers are faced with attempts to restrict their movement and artificially inflate costs of transportation. The government and the bus racket work together to extract the maximum rent from the individual and cripple his or her ability to move around.

That’s why they wanted the 20 cents in 2013.

No one told Brazilians that the 20 cents would be passed on to millionaire entrepreneurs such as Zero Freitas, with his ambition to create the largest music library in the world.

Certainly Brazilians would be more than willing to contribute to such a noble endeavor and perhaps they wouldn’t have taken the streets in the 2013 to refuse exploitation had they known about that incredible collection.

After all, it was only 20 cents and as Zero Freitas states, in his vinyl buying ads, he pays “HIGHER prices than anyone else.”

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