One of the few good ideas, we thought, that our beloved president Ricardo Martinelli had was to modernize public transport in the city. Not too long after he took office, the first metrobuses began to appear. With air conditioning, a reloadable card system, and fixed stops instead of improvised racing from street corner to lamp post.
Everything seemed to go well, so of course they then had to screw it up completely.
Last Friday, the Martinelli clique announced, the last remaining diablos rojos would be taken off the streets. No more converted school buses, painted in colorful schemes, roaring through town leaving clouds of black smoke from chrome exhausts with no mufflers, blasting reggeaton music to even further raise adrenaline levels. From now on, we would have orderly public transport!
That same day, riot police turned out in full force on Plaza 5 de Mayo to teargas furious passengers who had taken to blocking the streets because they could not get on any metrobus. Turned out that the bus officials had taken out about 600 old buses and replaced them with only 240 or so new buses, causing major trouble for thousands and thousands of people trying to go to work.
The chaos persisted during the day. Through twitter, car owners offered rides to stranded passengers. Some bus owners decided to bring their diablos rojos back into the streets, but were arrested for trying to ease the situation.
Then, Martinelli, who had been partying in David that day, promised that by Monday things would be fixed.
They weren't. The so-called "plan" to fix the problems has been a fiasco. Long lines, not enough buses, major congestion and raging passengers. Major hubs like the bus terminal and 5 de Mayo are too small and have become bottlenecks in the flow of buses. Way too many buses are driving around "in transito" instead of transporting passengers. The card recharging points are too few and understaffed. Hell, these people can't even make some route maps to put on display at the stops.
Minister of the Presidency Roberto Henriquez said that all would be well when the metro becomes available at the end of this year. Which of course raises the question - not asked by any of the journalists in Panama - why they couldn't wait until that moment with removing the diablos rojos from circulation.
Is the MiBus company now quickly buying more buses or at least organizing their circulation more efficiently? Of course not. The latest is that instead of buying buses, they are doing shady land deals worth $49 million that ooze odors of kickbacks and corruption.
So after some years of promising developments we are now almost back at where we began, with buses carrying people like sardines in a can, long waiting lines, unreliable schedules - if any at all - and vague promises of future improvement which nobody believes any more.