By: Felipe Argote
Like most Panamanians I am an expert in common sense. Also on the subject of transport, without detracting from the engineer Robert Roy and all those who are better educated in this discipline. In my view the center of gravity of the problem of transportation in Panama is the method of piecework. This method means that bus drivers must complete an amount of money to be paid on the owner of the bus and then cover their own costs for gasoline, bus washing and salary of the secretary or other expenses then what remains is his profit of the day. This makes they drive like crazy hornbills for the passengers with danger of dead for passengers by and passengers. In addition to these, drivers suffer extreme exploitation because they don’t have social security, vacations or retirement.
The elimination of this system transforming drivers to employees is clearly desirable. Having said the above I say that not so any change will solve the problem of thousands of workers who must get up at 4 o´clock in the morning to catch a bus beyond the city periphery to arrive on time for their job and then have to travel like sardines to departure time to get home no earlier than 8 at night.
Both the previous and the current government response were creating a new bus system. The government of Martin Torrijos was pushing for the purchase of new buses by the government to put up for tender the administration of these buses. Additionally set the replacement of current Red Devils by paying $ 25,000 each bus owner to remove the system unit. The new government is proposing something very similar but unlike the previous government, buses are owned by the concessionaire, not the state.
On the other side there is the subway, a massive mobilization of passengers who would be the backbone of the new proposal. The metro bus is a ready solution while the new metro system Martinelli's government during his election campaign promised to have in operation in just three years.
I find it totally misconceived the extent of the metro bus. I think buses should not only be owned by the state but also its operation, as in most modern cities. For this to be effective as well and include in the solution the problem of mobilizing students who should get home at 10:00 at night because they pay half fares so they are now restricted from entering the bus until they business is the hornbills, or when they have mobilized most of the people who pay full fare. This system to be effective it must be subsidized by the state for elementary student’s free travel and high school pay half fares. If the operation is private, the state must grant to the owner of the concession which is expensive because not only subsidizes the cost but also the profit of the of the operator. In addition to the new bus plan will be owned by the concessionaire, giving great weight not only economic but political. If there is any dispute the operator is able to paralyze the country more effectively than the SUNTRACS and educators and doctors all together.
On the other hand the national government has announced that the metro is not longer the metro, it is now only the first step of the origtinal, and no longer comes from Tocumen and Mañanitas, where is most clear the problem of mobilizing thousands of workers that not enjoy quality of life because spend half of his day time riding a bus, because only the metro will only come from the area of The Andes to the city center.
This means that in addition to the great discomfort that will determine the construction of this system, the vast majority of residents on the outskirts which hopeful who dreamed of a mass transit system, would now know they are not in the project anymore because they will only travel inside the city Subway metro. I am not saying it's wrong that Metro gets to the Gran Terminal de Albrook, just seems to me that the government and its experts should think again. They should consider that the first phase of construction should begin from Chilibre or Mañanitas and leave people in minutes on the edge of town, perhaps in the Andes or the entrance to San Miguelito, where there could be a bus terminal that disperses people to different parts of downtown. The second stage would then be the best looking for publicity building in the downtown. This, in my point of view, would be the smartest decision, except for a better criterion.