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Panama Bids Farewell to ‘Red Devil’ Buses

Panama City is currently undergoing the process of modernizing its public transportation system.

For many years, transportation consisted of second-hand school buses that were responsible for covering all of the routes in the capital. These buses were known as “Diablos rojos” (“Red devils”) and were characterized by being painted in traditional, artisanal style, as Peter Szok tells us in his blog Folk Art [es]:

Como la mayoría de las unidades del transporte público, es un viejo autobús escolar, importado de los Estados Unidos y remodelado por artistas panameños. Cientos de estas galerías estruendosas circulan por las calles de la capital y se les conoce comúnmente como los “diablos rojos”. Su nombre proviene de las danzas coloniales que los españoles utilizaron para introducir el cristianismo en el istmo y que se bailan en fiestas religiosas con la actuación de demonios igualmente asombrosos.

Diablos rojos, Panamá. Foto de Gaby Maldonado en Flickr, bajo licencia Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Red devils, Panamá. Photo by Gaby Maldonado on Flickr, under the Creative Commons LIcense (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Like the majority of the public transportation units, it is an old school bus imported from the United States and remodeled by Panamanian artists. Hundreds of these thundering galleries circulate throughout the streets of the capital and are commonly known as the “red devils.” Their name comes from colonial dances that the Spaniards used to introduce Christianity to the isthmus, which were performed during religious festivities and featured monsters that were equally as astonishing.

Club 700 [es] describes the red devils and adds a comment on how the bus drivers handled them:

Su nombre delata su reputación. Los autobuses de la capital de Panamá son los más populares, pero también los más polémicos. Aunque su apariencia colorida los hace diferentes, parecen haberse contagiados de un mal que afecta las calles de América Latina, la falta de prudencia.

Their name denounces their reputation. The buses in the Panamanian capital are the most popular, but also the most controversial. Although their colorful appearance makes them different, they seem to have been infected by something foul that affects the streets of Latin America – a lack of caution.

Nonetheless, efforts to remove these controversial vehicles began two administrations ago, as an article from the Nuevo Herald [es] from 2001 reminds us:

El ministro de Gobierno y Justicia, Winston Spadafora, ha decidido poner fin a
uno de los mayores purgatorios de los panameños, el transporte, y para ello
mandó al infierno a los “diablos rojos”, los autobuses bajo cuyos neumáticos
han muerto cientos de peatones.

The Minister of Government and Justice, Winston Spadafora, has decided to put an end to one of the Panamanians’ greatest purgatories — transportation — and to do that he sent to hell the “red devils,” the buses under whose tires hundreds of pedestrians have died.

Still, it was not until last Friday, March 15, 2013, that they officially stopped running the “red devils” as part of the current government's project to modernize the transportation system, which also includes the creation of a subway.

The company MIBUS [es] has been in charge of starting to circulate modern transportation units that include payment exclusively with a card. Nevertheless, adaptation to the new method of transportation has been traumatic for thousands of people who use it on a daily basis. La Estrella de Panamá [es] reports on it as follows:

Las quejas de los usuarios incluso los ha llevado a cerrar calles debido a la desesperación, no obstante la empresa Mi Bus desmiente que no hayan suficientes buses para cubrir la demanda de pasajeros. Así lo hizo saber en declaraciones en TVN Noticias del gerente de la empresa Mi Bus, Miguel Cardona, que explicó que se trata de un sistema en el que se tienen que organizar algunas cosas, pues no se pueden hacer “de la noche a la mañana”.

Complaints from users have even led them to close streets due to the despair, but Mi Bus denies that there are not enough buses to cover the demand of passengers. That is how it was made known in statements to TVN Noticias from Mi Bus manager, Miguel Cardona, who explained that it is about a system in which certain things have to be organized and this cannot be done “overnight.”

President Martinelli has apologized and asked for patience from riders, according La Prensa [es]:

Debido al caos, el presidente, Ricardo Martinelli, salió al paso pidiendo disculpas y paciencia a la población, mientras se adapta el nuevo sistema.

Due to the chaos, the president, Ricardo Martinelli, spoke out asking for forgiveness and patience from the population while they adapt to the new system.

The president also used his Twitter account (@rmartinelli) [es] to ask the company to “get its act together”:

@rmartinelli: Metrobus sigue causando problemas al usuario. Favor ponganse las pilas que este es un monopolio muy caro para brindar un mal servicio.

@rmartinelli: Metrobus continues to cause problems for riders. Please get your act together since this monopoly is far too expensive to afford poor service.

The ground transit and transportation authority (@ATTTPanama) [es] also used the same medium to warn people that adjustments will be made “on the go”:

@ATTTPanama: Metro Bus ha ingresado la totalidad de las rutas. De existir algún ajuste, se realizará sobre la marcha. Disculpas por los inconvenientes.

@ATTTPanama: Metro Bus has paid for the entirety of the routes. Should any adjustments come up, they will be made on the go. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Diablos rojos, Panamá. Foto de Karen Sheets de García en Flickr, bajo licencia Creative Commons  (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Red devils, Panamá. Photo by Karen Sheets de García on Flickr, under the Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Metrobus users have taken advantage of social networks to complain and even yearn for the service given by the red devils. For example, Pebbles Sanjur (@pebbles_mily) [es] comments on her Twitter account:

@pebbles_mily: Akbo d ver un diablo rojo en la klle esto q es? Pero saben q bn hecho xq metrobus tra dando un pesimo servicio

@pebbles_mily: I just saw a red devil in the street, what's this? But you know what, well done because metrobus is providing disastrous service

Janneth Rodriguez (@Tupolluela16) [es], on the other hand, is happy with the service:

@Tupolluela16: Super contenta con los #Metrobus de C.Bolivar espero que sigan a si! @Traficologo @TrafficPanama

@Tupolluela16: Super happy with the C.Bolivar #Metrobus I hope they continue this way! @Traficologo @TrafficPanama

Vía Noticias y más (@traficologo) [es] recognizes that despite the problems, the current government has decided to confront a situation that had become unsustainable.

@traficologo: Hay que admitirlo, @rmartinelli hizo lo que otros no se atrevieron: lidiar con crisis transporte. Inició @elmetrodepanama, impulsó MetroBus

@traficologo: You have to admit @rmartinelli did what others did not dare: fight the transportation crisis. He started @elmetrodepanama [Panama's subway] and propelled the MetroBus

This way, a change to an archaic and dangerous system like the red devils has been initiated. The Panamanian population is waiting for the system to establish itself and provide the service that everyone deserves.

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