There are some new developments in Panama that were intended to help the people actually feel the modernization program started about eight years. Two of these have now become part of the scenery, the new coin Balboa, which equals a dollar, and the Metrobus system has begun operation in full (well, almost full).
The New Balboa which just started to circulate throughout the country a couple of months ago is strangely purposeless. If you didn’t already know it, Panama is one of the dollarized economies of Latin America and we generally use paper dollars also known as Balboas, while using coin Balboas in addition to American coins like nickels dimes and sometimes pennies. Why the rush to dash the new coin Balboa on the public is somewhat of a mystery but it has generated mixed feelings.
Many people won’t accept them at the cash register as it looks and feels too much like a quarter. Others have had some bad experiences with the coin as it has a brass-like core with a nickel type ring around it as you can see in the image. At first it was reputed to be indestructible but some people have already had the coin come apart on them. So they wind up taking it to the nearest Banco Nacional to get a good one. Many people here also don’t care for coined money as it is heavy and cumbersome. Well, this was one idea that could have saved the tax paying public some money for coining the thousands of New Balboas.
The Metrobus system was just expanded to begin covering the main routes. Again, mixed feelings. Although at first glance the new buses, which were assembled in Colombia, are clean and modern looking, well lit, air-conditioned and have some features that make it more civilized to travel for the average Panamanian, the have their detractors.
They are a far cry from the old Diablo Rojo type buses which have been the backbone of the public transport system for the past thirty years. The Diablo Rojo buses which got their name from their distinct red painted bodies over which graphic artists could allow their imaginations to fly.
The Metrobus, unlike the old Diablos, adheres to a strict system of authorized bus stops and will not allow the passenger to get off closer to where he wants to go. The new bus drivers also will not permit passengers to board the bus carrying large packages, a real disadvantage as before passengers could get their Mother’s Day shopping and Christmas shopping done and get closer to their destination carrying their large bags and packages right on the bus.
Many people also complain that the stops are too far apart and the new buses do not have enough seating; on the Diablos you could almost be assured a seat at any given time. All of this for a quarter- twenty five cents! However, in December this will change and the fare is scheduled to go up to forty five cents.
Generally, Panamanian people are uncomfortable with change especially in so far as their besieged transportation system is concerned which has been in sore need of modernization for years now. We will see in the coming year how the new Metrobus system will wisely bend its original plans a little and adopt some of the old system’s features to please the public.
Coming up we will be talking about the new Metro- the subway- system that has begun its construction phase in building the main train stops underground.