Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Red Devil Buses = Panama City's Highway to Hell?

It seems each city in Central America, at least that I've visited, offers a distinct brand of kinetic energy. Panama City, in that regard is true to form, and offers the inquisitive visitor a unique circle of chaos. If you are visiting soon, and it will have to be soon, you won't be able to miss the Diablo Rojo buses.

Next stop?
But you are going to need to make that soon, as these buses which form the backbone of the transit system, are on the cusp of making their final rounds. Pres Ricardo Martinelli no less has made it a cause to eliminate these converted school buses. Welcome the era of the Metro Bus, and it seems for the residents who depend on the bus for their transportation, the change can't come soon enough.

Let's be clear, riding one of the Rojo's is not like navigating the streets of SF in your Subaru. Oh no, this is a dangerous, chaotic and enervating exercise that residents are delighted to see ride off into the sunset. Why? Well, consider:
  • Danger- The privately owned buses are known for a flagrant disregard for traffic laws and the general well being of their riders. Once they were school buses in Florida, and went on to second lives as the workhorse of the PC transit system.
  • Private Ownership- They're all privately owned. This means that the mass transportation in PC is subject to market forces. This means that the more people they carry quickly, the more money they make. Oh, and since the officials were looking the other way for the longest time, it meant the ride was nothing short of a highway to hell.
  • Public Transportation = Worldly- Pres Martinelli is eager to recast PC as the Singapore of Central America- the sort of place that attracts global corporations b/c it is safe, stable and sane. Part of that is having a reliable public transportation system that doesn't maim riders with alarming regularity.
Careful in the crosswalk!
If you must endure riding the Rojo's, your daily commute is a pile of suck. Granted they are visually compelling- often highly stylized with spikes, horns- multi-hued kaleidoscopes of odes to buxom salsa singers.This is not your bland Muni bus for sure. No the Rojo's are the daffy relation you'd like to keep under wraps, but in spite of being repeatedly muted and medicated, continues to besmirch your good name.

I have to wonder if one day the Rojo's will inspire civic nostalgia for their colorful, albeit odious presence. I'd hazard the guess that if you must ride these daily, your threshold for this type nostalgia is significantly higher than mine. So the answer is 'not any time soon'. That's just as well. And, let's hope the residents of Panama City get the ride they rightly deserve.