São Paulo’s immense public-transport system, run by SPTrans, is arguably the world’s most complex, with over 14,500 buses, 1300 lines and 500km worth of exclusive bus lanes. Buses (R$4) are crowded during rush hours and can be prone to pickpockets. Watch your valuables, especially phones in pockets or backpack side pockets. The city tourist-information booths are excellent sources of information about buses.
The city has made considerable efforts to make São Paulo more hospitable to two-wheeled travel and now counts a bike lane network that clocks in around 468km, including along Av Paulista and Av Faria Lima. Weekends on the Minhocão (an elevated highway officially called Via Elevado Presidente João Goulart) and Av Paulista also offer great cycling opportunities, as does Parque Ibirapuera. Itaú-sponsored Bike Sampa, the city's bike-sharing scheme, has a fleet of 2600 bicycles spread over 260 stations.
CET (Companhia de Engenharia de Tráfego), the city's traffic management company, offers an updated city map of bike infrastructure at www.cetsp.com.br/consultas/bicicleta/mapa-de-infraestrutura-cicloviaria.aspx. São Paulo Turismo also maintains a very informative bicycle infrastructure website at www.cidadedesaopaulo.com/spdebike/index-desktop, in Portuguese only.
Proceed with caution, however – biking in Sampa remains a dicey proposition - and don't even think about not wearing a helmet.
Car & Motorcycle
Considering its size and murderous traffic, São Paulo driving isn't too frightening – it's fairly straightforward to rent a car and make a break for the beach or the countryside. You'll find rental car agencies stocked at both airports and around town, but there are a few important things to keep in mind when driving in the city.
Always be mindful of motorcyclists, which can zip between lanes on both sides of you at any given moment in packs of five or 50 – it's very easy to forget to check your blind spot when switching lanes and cause an accident. São Paulo's motoboys – couriers on motocycles, essentially – can act with a gang-like mentality and you do not want to have an altercation with them.
Be wary of speed limits in the city and especially on the highways. Both traditional (speeding, red lights, bus lanes) and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) speed cameras, which time your average speed over a fixed distance and nail you for speeding between cameras, are in use in São Paulo and throughout Brazil. Warning signs read Fiscalização Eletrônica.
Lastly, São Paulo is the largest metropolis in the world to operate with a road space rationing system aimed to mitigate air pollution and ease traffic congestion. Locally, it's known as rodízio veicular. Based on the last two numbers of your license plate, you will not be able to drive within the city during peak hours (7am to 10am and 5pm to 8pm Monday to Friday). Pay attention to these as rental car agencies don't always warn you and will even rent you a car on the day and timeframe of its rodízio! Basically, plates ending in 1 and 2 cannot drive during peak hours on Monday, 3 to 4 on Tuesday, 5 and 6 on Wednesday, 7 and 8 on Thursday and 9 and 0 on Friday.
Metro & Train
You can reach many places on the excellent Metrô São Paulo, the city's rapidly expanding subway system, which is integrated with its commuter rail counterpart, CPTM. The metro is cheap, safe and fast, and runs from 4:40am to midnight on most lines. A single ride costs R$4. A daily Bilhete Diário Comum pass costs R$15.30 (a R$20.50 Bilhete Diário Comum Integracão pass includes buses as well). Refillable Bilhete Único (R$4) smart cards are worthwhile for discounts transferring between bus, metro and CPTM (up to four trips in three hours) and can be recharged at station booths, station machines and various apps. Passes are available at any Bilhete Único station booth.
Why has a helicopter been swaddled in cashmere and hung in the main hall of Daslu, São Paulo’s most exclusive shopping emporium? The answer is simple: a private chopper is the ultimate Paulistano status symbol. The city’s elite took to the skies in a big way during the 1990s, rebelling against congested roads and kidnappers targeting wealthy residents. Today São Paulo is said to have more helicopter traffic than any other city, with some 700 registered helicopters and 400 helipads (versus a mere 60 in New York City).
The problem, however, is that only the super-rich can afford their own bird. What were the merely ‘very rich’ to do? In a fit of class solidarity, they traditionally founded helicopter ‘collectives,’ enabling members to share the cost of purchase and maintenance of the choppers, and also pilot hire. After an initial outlay of about US$70,000, members needed to pony up US$50,000 a year – 10 times the typical annual salary of a domestic worker.
But things are getting much, much cheaper. Uber used São Paulo as a test market in 2016 for Ubercopter – it's helicopter-hailing service – and has plans to return to the market with an unmanned aircraft called Uber Elevate by 2020. Other flight sharing services like Voom (www.voom.flights) are off and running in the city. A 15-minute ride from Av Faria Lima on the city's west side to GRU Airport runs between R$300 and R$500 – 80% cheaper than traditional air taxi services.