New Payment System For MetroBus Service in Panama


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.

Snapshot of the white and orange MetroBus prepaid card. My wife and I purchased our cards on February 4, 2012 and recharged them on the same date. Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.
Snapshot of the green exit validating machine. As you can see, it digitally displays the date and hour you are exiting the bus. This is important if you are taking other buses to reach your destination within a maximum period of forty minutes from one bus to another. Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

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.

17 thoughts on “New Payment System For MetroBus Service in Panama”

  1. Morning Omar,
    This sounds like a good system (I remember that we paid 5 cents to ride on what we called “chiva” buses). Those drivers were scary.

    Two questions: How does one get their 3rd edad discount? I know my cuñada would argue for an hour to get hers.

    Next, can you pay for 2 people boarding the bus together with one card? What about a mom with kids? I can’t expect a 10 year old kid to keep track of his card.

    I hope the new system works well for those who must use the buses to get to work.
    jim and nena
    fort worth, tx

  2. Morning Jim & Nena:

    We didn’t get our pensionado discount when we recharged our cards. We didn’t ask for it either. I really don’t know if we apply for a discount at buses. I don’t recall having a discount for bus fares. Will have to find out.

    Don’t have an answer for your second question either. We are buying a card for one of The Twisters, if he needs one. Will research and get back to you with an answer.

    So far the system is working fine. The bus drivers don’t need to handle money, and you don’t have to carry cash with you. It’s a win-win situation for everybody. I prefer to pay my bills with my Clave card and electronic banking. Never liked to have cash, don’t know why.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

  3. I’m a great supporter of public transportation. Keeps a lot of cars off the road and the cost per passenger mile is extremely economical.

    When I lived in Chicago, off and on for about 5 years in the late 60s and mid 70s the city had a terrific public transportation system. You could get within three or four blocks of anywhere by bus or train. They has a great thing called the “Super Transfer.” Starting at midnight Saturday night you paid $2 for one and could ride without limits all day Sunday until 1 a.m. Monday morning.

    New Orleans also had a pretty good public transit. I used to ride the funky old street car down stately St. Charles Avenue from my home to downtown Canal Street on the edge of the French Quarter all the time. When I first arrived in ’77 it only cost a quarter.

    Public transportation really sucked in south Florida as it does in general in most of the United States. You absolutely CAN’T live in most of the country without a car.

    I’m really impressed with the public transportation here in Panama. You can get nearly anywhere in the country using some form of public transit, from the large, air-conditioned buses that show movies as they run from one end of the country to the other. Locally here in the hinterland public transportation is excellent. When I first came down and was living in Potrerillos Arriba it cost 90 cents for the 45 minute to one hour ride down to David. Then, as fuel became more expensive, the fare jumped to $1.05 but still a bargain. It’s absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to do that round trip in your car for $2.10 even if you coasted downhill the whole way.

    In a couple of hours I’ll be taking the bus from here in Boquerón in to David where a group of us gringos meet on Wednesday mornings to practice our Spanish. The bus stop is about 150 meters from my front door and it will let me off a block away from where I need to go. It’s about a 40 mile round trip and will only cost me 60 cents (with the Jubilado discount) each way. In my neighborhood only three families own a car, and it’s NOT because they’re poor. They just don’t need one because of the buses and taxi service here.

    It’s a shame, though, that with the demise of the Diablos and the rise of the MetroBus that much of the color and vibrancy of Panama City, and the country as a whole is succumbing to what I call “pablification.” (The process of making something bland and colorless.) It’s a shame not too many people supported our plan to paint the MetroBuses in the style of the Diablos. Why in the world does Panama want to become dull and colorless like so much of the rest of the “developed” world?

  4. Hi Richard:

    Yeah, I remember our project to save the Diablos Rojos. At least we tried Richard. Maybe they will leave a couple of them running to keep the tradition rolling. Who knows? Glad that you remembered that initiative.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

  5. Hi Omar,
    I was just reading about using a swipe card at Albrook to board the bus to David. Do you know if the card for the Metro bus is the same card or if it can be used at the turnstile? Seems like the same card could do double duty.
    Thanks.
    jim and nena
    fort worth, tx

  6. Hi Jim and Nena:

    No, they are two different cards. The card at the bus terminal at Albrook is to pay for the use of the terminal which is a nickel per trip.

    The Metro Bus card is to pay bus transportation in Panama City. Two different cards for two different purposes.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

  7. Thank you for the great information you have provided here Omar! I not yet ridden the new Metrobus, can you tell me how to find route information and schedule of times? Also does the Metrobus go to either airport particuarly Tocuman? Thanks!

    1. Hello Christine:

      At the moment, there are no time schedules. All routes are digitally displayed on the front of the bus. As far as I know, Metrobuses are not reaching Tocumen International Airport, you will have to take a taxi to from the airport.

      The following link will provide information regarding the different routes in Panama City: http://quepasapanama.com/2011/01/conoce-las-rutas-del-metrobus-y-donde-estan-las-paradas/

      If you don’t understand Spanish, you can always translate the whole Web Site using Google Translate using your Internet connection. Easy as pie.

      Good Luck,

      Omar.-

  8. I wonder if we can buy a bus card at the international airport when we arrive from the USA? We would like to ride a bus to our hotel at Calle 30 and not have to pay $30 for a taxi.

    1. Hi Joe:

      I don’t think you can take a bus from the airport to take you to the city. As far as I know, you have to take a cab. However, I could be wrong. Please make your request to the lady at the counter of the Panama Bureau of Tourism (Instituto Panameño de Turismo) at the exit gate of the airport. They will be more than glad to answer your questions about transportation to the city.

      Regards,

      Omar.-

  9. I see there is a free shuttle from the metromall to the airport and back. Perhaps we could take the free shuttle to the mall and then catch a metro bus from there?

    Thanks for answering so fast.

  10. Hi Joe:

    That’s a good idea. You can buy the Metro Bus card at the MetroMall and then use it to travel by bus within the city. The bus fare is $0.25 per trip. You decide how much money you want to put into your card. Usually I charge it with $5.00.

    Enjoy you stay in Panama.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

  11. Omar,
    Thank you for this useful information. Pity I did not find this article one day earlier when I took the wrong bus to the terminal.

    However, I think the next step for the metro bus is to provide maps of all the routes. That will allow a first time visitor like myself to know which route will inter connect with which. For example I was at the Muliticentro and wanted to get back to Avenida Peru and Calle 31. I knew there was no direct bus but was unsure which bus would take me to Via España for me to get the bus to Avenida Peru.

    I actual found your blog when I came online looking for route maps.

    I agree that Panama will become a first world country. I see a lot of infrastructure development taking place, as I see in the various first world countries I have visited.

    1. Hi Jen:

      That’s a very good idea. Next time I’m near their offices I’ll talk to them and suggest your idea. Maybe when you return to Panama you will find maps that will help you find your way around the city using Metro Buses.

      Best Regards,

      Omar.-

  12. Stayed in Casco Viejo area last week of Jan and could not find a place to purchase the metro card. Am now in Perejil and have the same problem. A couple of locals tried to help as well and could not find any place to purchase them. The new system seems fine for locals but it is a real hassle for tourists.

    1. Hi José:

      No news from the Metro authorities on the cost of the Metro fares. President Martinelli commented the cost of the Metro would be “less than one dollar”. We are still waiting. The same card used to pay the MetroBus fares will be accepted by the Panama Metro. Please click this link for further information about the subway’s payment system.

      Regards,

      Omar.-

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