Contributed by: Don WinnerUsers of the new Metrobus public transport system have spent more than $23.6 million since the use of the new rechargeable electronic swipe cards became mandatory eight months ago. The company Sonda S.A., the financial administrator of the Metrobus payment system, reported yesterday that system users have made 100 million trips in the eight months since they began collecting bus fares through the use of the new card. The ticket cost is 25 cents for trunk routes and $1.25 on the Northern and Southern Corridors, while school students pay a dime. The company specified that users have saved $1.4 million by making 5.6 million transfers (at no cost), which is an advantage because bus users can get off of the bus for a specified period of time and then get back on later at no cost, if going in the same direction. Bus users also are taking advantage of another benefit called the "emergency ticket", which has been used by 1,174,000 users. This allows them to travel by bus even without sufficient balance on their cards, which is then deducted from their accounts later when they make the next recharge on the card.
Opinions - Daniel Guerra, the general manager of the company Sonda, said Panamanians have adapted well to the new payment method, and he highlighted the effectiveness of the system.
However, David Ramirez, president of the 23 October Movement, said he would like to know more about the income being generated by the payments being made by passengers for bus fare, because one of the factors for which the public transportation system was modernized was so that the Panamanian people could know the actual benefits of this business. He also warned that there are still users who are not accustomed to the payment system using the electronic swipe card, and he recommended they should make a monthly budget of the money they spend on public transportation, and in that way they could enter the appropriate amounts, and thus will not have to make frequent recharges, which saturates the system and causes it to fail, bringing discomfort to other users. Ramirez stressed the need to expand the methodology of charging, such as the mobile network access to streamline the system.
Meanwhile, Guerra said "we continue to work to provide facilities to the users, which is why in the last two months we have replaced about 250 outlets to sell and recharge cards. This represents 25% of our charging points, all to provide greater coverage to transport our users." In recent weeks Sonda has opened 12 windows in areas where there is a high concentration of bus users. They have also launched a balance verification system using SMS text messages. Users can find out how much money is left on their cards by sending a text message with the card number to 3939. By the end of the year the company plans to introduce new electronic recharge systems, as a spearhead in the region. Currently there are one million active cards, at a cost of $ 2 each. If the user has a problem when trying to use the card, Sonda will replace it if the problem is being caused by deterioration due to use. However if the user loses their card, they must buy a new one. (Panama America)