In an effort to continue upgrading its mass transportation system, the Panama government announced a new payment method for bus services in Panama City. Effective February 15, 2012, all bus passengers must purchase a MetroBus card in order to board their buses. The cost of a MetroBus prepaid card is $2.00 each. After acquiring the card, you can then proceed to recharge it with any amount ranging from $0.50 to $50.00.
The current cost of a bus fare is $0.25 while the Diablo Rojos are still in operation. When the entire metropolitan new fleet is in full operation, the bus fare will increase to $0.45. I think this will happen during the next six to eight months. There is nothing official yet about this new fare. If you ride the Corredores buses, (e.g., Corredor Norte and Corredor Sur, the fare is $1.25).
If you have to take several buses to reach your final destination, you will not have to pay more than $0.25 if you board the other buses within a maximum period of forty minutes. This will be a great savings for those have to do this in order to get to their working sites. This is known is Spanish as trasbordo and is now free if you meet the requirement of the forty minutes I just mentioned. There is a validating machine to monitor the exact date and hour you exited your bus and boarded the next one. If the period does not exceed forty minutes, you pay nothing more.
You can purchase and recharge the MetroBus almost everywhere in Panama City. I purchased my card at Super 99 without much hassle and recharged it immediately with $5.00. I’m not much of bus user, but if the price of gasoline continues to escalate, I’ll have no choice but to mothball my car and start using the buses more. It doesn’t bother me at all. They are modern, comfortable, and equipped with air condition systems. Plus their drivers are more polite and cautious than the Diablo Rojos daredevils who have caused so many accidents and deaths in the past.
With your MetroBus card readily available in your hand, you place it near a yellow validating machine at the entrance of the bus. Automatically it will beep and reduce $0.25 from your account and will provide you with the remaining balance. If you will be using other buses until you reach your final destination, you will have to use another green validating machine at the exit door. The validating machine will display your exact exit time and date. The system really works as announced by the transit authorities.
On February 17, 2012 I used a MetroBus unit to test the new payment system. I boarded the unit at Tumba Muerto near our home at 08:40 a.m., and exited it at 08:54 a.m. at El Dorado. The whole process was a breeze. My wife was with me during the trial ride.
If you want to check your card balance at any time, you can access the Web site www.tarjetametrobus.com and click on the “Consulta de Saldos y Movimiento las 24 Horas” link. All your card transactions, as well as your card’s standing balance, will be displayed at this site. For example my account balance is now $4.75. I don’t think it can get any better than this.
It is very important to bear in mind, that if you don’t have a recharged MetroBus prepaid card, you will not be allowed to use the MetroBus system in Panama City. Caveat my dear reader if plan to use the MetroBus system during your next visit to Panama City. You can buy and recharge your prepaid MetroBus card at places such as pharmacies, supermarkets and large stores such as Almacenes Cochez, Novey, Elektra, Terpel and Codere to name just a few. Your hotel will recommend you which is your nearest site to buy and recharge the prepaid cards.
As far as I know, the transition to the new payment system has been smooth and people are adapting rapidly without much hassle. Panama will have one of the most modern mass transportation systems in the region when MetroBus is fully operational and the subway system is completed sometime in 2014.
No matter what the doomsayers say, Panama will become a First World Country. It’s only a matter of time. The best is yet to come. Good Day.