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New Buses in Panama City, Panama - Goodbye Diablo Rojos

Panama City, Panama was and still is known for their unique buses, “Diablo Rojos,” which are in fact privately owned buses that have no set time frame or clearly identifiable routes. In essence, the Panamanian bus system reflects Panamanian cultural – in with the new and out with the old. As Panama is growing at a rapid pace and looking to enter the 1st World of business and infrastructure, one of the first things that was marked for the chopping block and set for modernization was the bus system.


Diablo rojos (Red Devils in English) are old school buses converted into city buses. Each one boasts its own unique, custom paint job with bright, usually red, colored murals on the outside. Drivers rush to unofficial bus stops, sometimes racing other buses in effort to be the first to arrive and receive passengers. There is no order. It is every man, women and child for themselves. Do not be surprised if you seem a young man push their way past a group of women to gain entry and secure a seat first. Once inside the crowded bus is blasted with reggaetone and vendors walk the aisles selling snacks.


But the culturally identifiable trademark is soon to be a thing of the past. The Panamanian government is currently in the process of replacing nearly 3,000 “diablo rojos” with a new, modern Panama bus fleet named the Metrobus. Replacements are scheduled over a phased multi-year process.


The new high-capacity Mercedes Benz and Volvo buses will surely change the landscape of Panama City. With far less air and noise pollution, passengers are now provided with a new, clean and comfortable means of public transportation. 


One of the president’s campaign promises was to provide a new, reliable, comfortable bus system, and the Panamanian government is making true to its claims.  Previous administrations tried to do so but failed. 


A 15-year concessionary contract for the Metrobus was awarded to a Colombian company Transporte Masivo de Panama S.A. which implemented similar public transportation changes in Colombia.  The concessionaire will have insurance for all buses, so that users are shielded from any harm.


Panama’s new bus system will have 1,200 buses operating on the streets of Panama City. As of April 2011, there were 499 buses operational. 


Initially, the project was stalled due to complications arising from a lack of drivers. However, enough drivers have been trained and hired, and the project is back on schedule. The Metrobus system is expected to create an estimated 3,400 jobs throughout the country, the majority being drivers, but also mechanics, administration, and janitorial providers to keep the buses clean. 


In Panama City alone, over 700 thousand people use public transportation. The new buses are designed to carry about 80 passengers each – 30 sitting and 50 standing, which is about 25% more than what the Diablo Rojos can handle.


The new buses will include air conditioning, separate entrance and exit doors, seats for the disabled and prepaid bus cards. The system is designed to guarantee efficient bus routes and a high frequency of buses.  The current fair, set for one year, is $0.45, compared to Diabol Rojos which charge $0.25 per passenger. 


Main routes of the new bus system consist of 120 buses that will provide transportation services along the Southern Corridor and approximately the same amount of buses on routes through the Northern Corridor.