The infamous Osama Bin Laden Diablo Rojo. Who knew Bin Laden was a Barcelona Soccer team fan?
The revamped old school buses are the public transportation for Panama City and much of the country. Each bus is privately owned and the owner purchases a bus route from the government of Panama. The owner of each bus takes great pride in decorating his bus.
Four factors are influencing the demise of bright paintings on the buses. Rising gas prices are making the profit margins very small so there isn't extra capitol to pay for fancy works of art. To increase profit, some are selling advertising space on their buses. Ads for grocery stores and politicians are becoming almost as common as scenes of Jesus on the cross and movie heroes.
|A diablo rojo advertising for the Super Xtra grocery chain|
Another influenceing factor was a fire on a bus in October of 2006 that killed 18 passengers, in part because it didn't have an emergency exit. Now all buses must have a working back door with a usable window. The eye catching rear door portraits are disappearing and being replaced by functional boring white. I asked around to see if I could buy an old door, but it sounds like they are simply scraping the window and painting the rest white.
|A diablo rojo with a functioning back door|
This year the Panamanian government opened bidding on a contract to bring in 420 new buses. These so called diablos chinos (Chinese devils), will be owned and managed by the government. The government probably won't be interested in paying for fancy paint jobs.
Very soon, before the next presidential election (May 2009), the first new buses will hit the streets of Panama. Currently the government is buying the routes back, for $25, 000 each, effectively taking these buses off the roads. What will become of these buses? I don't know, but Panama won't be the same with out them.