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Panama - Buses and Trams
The main point of departure in Panama City is the Grand Terminal which is actually part of the Albrook Mall. The latest bus schedules are posted here and you can find details of all bus services. It should be noted that to get to some other parts of the bus station from the ticket office you will need to pay a few cents to get through a turnstile.
In order to get on the bus at another point you need to flag the bus down. You should hold out your arm and indicated that you want the bus to stop. When you are on the bus there are no bells to press as for UK buses, so you need to shout to the driver that you want him to stop. This will involve you shouting ‘parada’ loudly. Alternatively you can tell the driver when you get on the bus where you want to get off, but with many passengers there is no guarantee he will remember, so you need to be prepared to shout too. Locals on the buses are generally very helpful and can shout with you if you need to make yourself heard.
Highway buses do not cost a lot of money. Average fare is around $1 for every hour you are on the bus. City buses have a flat rate fare, so no matter where you get on or off you pay the same. There is an exception to this in the buses which run shuttle services to and from the airport. These are more expensive simply because they can get away with charging more as they are the only buses on these routes. This can be avoided by opting for a taxi instead.
The city buses look like US school buses. They are known as ‘Red Devils’ as they are brightly painted. The standard of driving on these is often not very high and it is not unheard of for criminal activity to take place on the bus. It is worth noting that large numbers of locals will not use buses and opt for taxis instead. Passengers have to listen to loud music and often you will find yourself on a bus that is not in the best condition.
The standard of buses in Panama is slowly beginning to improve. The city buses are gradually being replaced by modern Volvo buses which offer air conditioning and will be known as the Metrobus. The highway buses are also becoming more modern and offer air conditioning, reclining seats and video screens. It is worth noting that some routes, particularly in the cities are always crowded. Some buses always seem to be full.
The buses are run by several companies, particularly those that offer intercity services. Some will offer a regular service which makes a number of stops and is a longer journey time, or you can opt for an express service which makes fewer stops and gets there much more quickly. Information on services can be obtained from the individual websites of the companies or from the bus terminals.
When you purchase a bus ticket at the terminal building there are several cashier’s windows and the prices are listed for you to see. Tickets are usually white or green in colour and you need to keep them safe. When you have your ticket the cashier will be able to tell you which door you need to use to reach the stopping point for your bus.
For longer journeys the buses have luggage sections for suitcases and for smaller hand luggage there are usually shelves above your head and space below your seat.
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