This week there was a tragic accident in Panama City with a bus catching fire resulting in 18 deaths and multiple injuries. I am not sure that the word accident is the proper word to use because it implies that it was unavoidable.
I do not believe this is the case. I have repeatedly warned people about using the bus transportation system in Panama. I include every bus system I have seen while I have been here. Most if not all buses begin their life in Panama after being retired from a long-term duty in the US as school buses. Many are replaced in the US because they are no longer considered safe and may not pass US inspections. If you look at the buses that travel between David and Boquete, you will see these yellow school buses with the school name from the US still on the bus.
The unfortunate thing is that the majority of people in Panama have to rely on these as their sole means of transportation. Also many retirees that come to Panama on a US Social Security pension also need to use them and taxies for their transportation. When you consider the cost of a car and the price of gasoline, a bus or cab ride is extremely reasonable.
The problem that I see with US retirees using the bus and taxi system, is that they assume they are riding in vehicle equivalent to one in the US from a safety stand point. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having a vehicle receive its annual inspection in Panama, amounts to taking it to an authorized inspection center and receiving a certificate of inspection. All that means is that you paid the fee to the center. No breaks are checked. No lights are checked. If you can park it so they can take a photo, it will get the certificate.
I realize that Panama is not the US and I certainly would not advocate a system as stringent as that in the US, but at a minimum any vehicle that is operated should at least have good breaks, tires with good tread and lights and turn signals that work. Since I have been here there have been many deaths on buses driving to and from David and Costa Rica or Panama City. Many of these happened at night in the rain and the tires didn’t prevent the bus from sliding on slick roads.
Maybe the event this week can bring enough visibility to the problem that something changes. I hope so. I hope that those that died did not die in vain.