Panama's Metrobus is on the Way

By Juan Carlos Martinez

Panama's mass transit system currently consists of old US school buses painted red with wild designs and colors. They are called “diablos rojos” and have become part of Panamanian folklore being quite singular and attention grabbing. In addition to this they are very old and inadequately maintained. The whole Panamanian mass transit system is getting a much needed overhaul.

The current Panamanian system works through independent bus owners who buy a permit to provide the transport service for each bus that they own. Many of them do not drive themselves but “sub-let” the buses to drivers called “palancas” who agree to give the owner a daily fee and anything they earn above the owner's fee is their take home pay. The drivers generally work very long hours and compete fiercely for passengers. This system has led to an unreliable, disorganized, inefficient and at times dangerous transport system.


One of the promises of the Martinelli administration was to improve public transportation. The Metrobus is the first proposal they submitted to this end.

Metrobus is to be a public transport system that is safe, comfortable and reliable. Under the slogan “It's the people's turn”, the Metrobus transport system will cover the urban areas of Panama City and San Miguelito up to Pacora with new buses. The new buses will have air conditioning, separate access and exit doors, a buzzer for stops, facilities for persons with disabilities, among many other much needed improvements.

The process for this new transport system started as soon as the new administration took office and finally at the end of June 2010, almost a year after taking office, it seems that it is very close to becoming a reality.

As is required by law the project was placed on Panama's public procurement portal, Panamacompra, for review by interested parties; offers were received; the offers were evaluated and it is finally awarded to Transporte Masivo de Panama who submitted the lowest fare at 64 cents.

The request for proposal prepared by the government indicated that the winning company would have to replace the entire fleet of buses, some 1,400 buses within 8 to 12 months. The company has indicated that the new buses will be Volvo and Mercedes Benz.

It is often mentioned in the press and by the political analysts in Panama that the one campaign promise that at all costs must be delivered is a solution for public transport. The President himself has said that he is aware that Panamanians will never forgive his administration for not complying with this promise. With this recent news the Metrobus seems closer than ever.


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