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Volume 18, Number 2
February 28, 2012

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lifestyle

Also in this section:
Morning transportation nightmare
National Men's Baseball Tournament Schedule
The 1925 Dule Revolution
The PANAM Network's school vacation workshops in Colon
Enter the Dragon: Jeremy Lin
The court in Cartagena that Panama's religious minorities feared
Pollo de palo: wildlife around the house, or in a pinch, dinner
Kermit Nourse's photos of Carnival in Panama City
Scenes from Carnival around Panama
Promoting safer sex at Carnival in Chitre
Jumbo Man --- the government's symbol --- was an onstage pervert at Carnival
Scenes from this year's Antillean Fair
Panama in the 2014 Winter Olympics?
Renewing a tourist visa in Panama

A lot of articles from other publications and general commentary by various people about different aspects of life in Panama --- and freewheeling discussions about them --- can be found on our constantly updated Facebook page


Metro Buses on display, rather than in service. Photo by the Presidencia

Is it possible to have a traffic nightmare on a sunny morning?
by Eric Jackson

It was a Monday morning, February 27, and I spent the previous night in San Carlos but had to be at Santo Tomas Hospital for an early appointment. I was out the door a little before six in the morning and got up to the bus stop just as the San Carlos to Panama bus was leaving. The next bus to come by was taking the "camino" route --- a detour through La Chorrera that I usually did not mind but on this morning time meant something, so I waited for the next one. That was an Aguadulce bus, but by the bus syndicate's rules they were just letting people off in San Carlos and the next bus, an Anton bus, would be picking up passengers. That was there before the Aguadulce bus left and I got on at 6:26.

This was a few minutes later than hoped for, but still gave me a shot at getting to my appointment at 8 o'clock or earlier. Or so it seemed, until somewhere around the exit for Vacamonte. A policewoman waved the bus over, but rather than a papers check or the issuance of some sort of ticket, she told the driver that buses had to use the Centennial Bridge rather than the Bridge of the Americas on this morning. Add 10 to 15 minutes to the estimated time of arrival at the terminal in Albrook, I figured.

WRONG. Traffic was jammed from Paraiso almost all the way in to Albrook. It was particularly bad at Pedro Miguel, Miraflores and Clayton. We got into the bus terminal at 8:25. As we were arriving, I noticed something unusual.

Empty Metro Buses were parked end to end by the side of the road. A massive crowd waited to get on those Metro buses that were running, or to hail a cab.

Part of the problem was the conversion of the Metro Buses to card rather than cash payments 12 days earlier. It could have been done easily, as in the Washington DC subways where you can buy a disposable card at the turnstiles from a vending machine. However, the Metro Bus system has personalized cards that cost $2 to buy (without any money for fares on them), and for which you have to show ID. Although the government has made no announcements about it, this system, like the cards at the bus terminal turnstiles, gives someone with privileged access to the system at least part of the technology to track individuals' movements on public transportation. Setting aside all of those concerns, however, on this day there were two big problems:

  1. This was the first day of the school year for most Panamanian schoolkids. Teachers were unhappy for a number of reasons, but resisted the urges to strike or block the streets. But the Metro Bus czar, Minister of the Presidency Jimmy Papadimitriu, had promised that school kids would have free bus cards and on the first day of school and for the first three weeks of school these were and would not be available. It would not have been much of an inconvenience if the government had not shut down diablo rojo service on many routes that kids needed to take to school in favor of the Metro Bus system.

  2. There are few places where a person can get a Metro Bus card, and under the Martinelli regime once you find one, it's not as simple as putting a few coins or a bill in the machine and getting what you need.

Add to that all these people waiting for a bus and the buses parked idly by the side of the road. Add to that parents going to schools with their younger kids. Add to that a school year that started with unfilled teaching posts as usual, so many would-be teachers headed toward the Ministry of Education offices on Avenida Peru in search of their teaching assignments, if they are to get them. Add to that all of the traffic snarls caused by multiple construction projects. The sum is getting off the bus, going down the ramp, and joining a large crowd of people jostling and pleading to get a taxi. My wait was not long. The cab took two police officers to Curundu, a teacher to the Ministry of Education in Calidonia, and me to Santo Tomas. I got there about nine o'clock.

This is often too late to be seen, but although I turned out last in line the friendly and hard-working nurse and doctor squeezed me in. Having inadvertantly left San Carlos without my science fiction book, on this morning I read La Estrella and La Prensa in hard copy rather than online. The doctor gave me a rather inexpensive prescription and a new set of dietary restrictions, but told me that what I have is not too serious.

The traffic delay that put me last in line, however, made me miss a press conference over near Parque Omar. I still had other business to do in the city, but for lack of a Metro Bus card, I had to get around by cab rather than bus, at several dollars more expense than I would have liked.

And you know what? Every cab driver I rode with that day brought up the subject of how ridiculous the traffic is. What they make in extra fares because the bus system is malfunctioning, they lose in the added time it gets to drive from Point A to Point B.

The trip back to San Carlos? Other than having to pay the mafia that runs the bus terminal a dime rather than a nickel to get through the turnstile, it wasn't a big problem. I took the camino bus because time was not of the essence and in downtown La Chorrera felt a slight temptation blow a dollar or two and my dietary discipline by getting off of the bus and going to Las Abejas, this country's ultimate fritura stand. But given the annoying morning commute, I decided not to press my luck.

That day the IPSOS polling firm released its February findings, which showed President Martinelli with a 19 percent approval rating, as against 44 percent who disapprove of the job he's doing and the rest pleading neutrality or not answering. In other words, at this point the ruling party may hold all the levers but it's political buzzard chow. We can discuss this issue or that issue, but people waking up to morning traffic nightmares is surely part of what is reflected in the polls.





   
 

Also in this section:
Morning transportation nightmare
National Men's Baseball Tournament Schedule
The 1925 Dule Revolution
The PANAM Network's school vacation workshops in Colon
Enter the Dragon: Jeremy Lin
The court in Cartagena that Panama's religious minorities feared
Pollo de palo: wildlife around the house, or in a pinch, dinner
Kermit Nourse's photos of Carnival in Panama City
Scenes from Carnival around Panama
Promoting safer sex at Carnival in Chitre
Jumbo Man --- the government's symbol --- was an onstage pervert at Carnival
Scenes from this year's Antillean Fair
Panama in the 2014 Winter Olympics?
Renewing a tourist visa in Panama



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© 2012 by Eric Jackson
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