The government recently announced a plan to restructure public transportation in Panama. What issues need to be addressed?
Panama's Strategic Government Plan 2015-2019 clearly identifies a number of weaknesses and areas that require improvement in our transit and transportation sector. These issues include traffic congestion, accessibility, and mobility in Panama's metropolitan area and weak institutional capacity to handle these challenges. During the past year and a half, we have been working on giving form to a plan to address these issues. This plan encompasses the modernization and organizational reengineering of the Transit and Terrestrial Transport Authority and a complete review of the transit and transport's sectors legal framework. One critical improvement area is public transportation, where we are working toward the implementation of an integrated public transportation system for Panama's broad metropolitan area. Another key area is cargo transportation, which is particularly important at this moment in time due to the increased cargo volumes that are expected as a result of the canal's expansion. Our government has created a Logistics Cabinet, which is responsible for the strategic planning, development, and implementation of a master plan to promote Panama as a logistics center. The ATTT is part of this Cabinet and plays a major role in making sure that the issues regarding the land cargo sector are included and addressed in the master plan. Aside from this, the ATTT has set up a task force with representatives of the land cargo transport sector and other related instances to discuss operative issues and adopt measures to make this activity more efficient, cost-effective, and safe.
Where will modernization efforts be focused?
Public transport is the area that needs the most improvement and modernization. In recent years, there has been a need for a mass public transportation network, which did not exist previously. We just had old buses, which were known as the diablos rojos, or the red devils. The concession won by MiBus brought in better vehicles and improved the sector overall. The metro has also had a major impact with line one having recently been completed, adding an additional dimension and forming the backbone for the public transportation system in Panama. Line two is under construction. When completed, it is expected to transport 500,000 passengers per day. Line three will cover the west side of the metropolitan area. But before line three is undertaken, various other infrastructure projects need to be completed, such as the fourth bridge across the Panama Canal. It is important to keep in mind the geographical characteristics of Panama City, which has natural barriers that limited its expansion. Having the Pacific Ocean to the south and the Panama Canal to the west, the city was forced to grow eastward in a rectangular fashion. Presently, there are only five main arteries in Panama City including northern and the southern highways, which are paid, to handle the flow of around 900,000 vehicles.
How are you addressing the issue of traffic safety?
We are going to schools, both in urban and rural areas, and universities to talk to students and the population. We are using social media to increase awareness of road traffic safety. Public servants receive training on safe driving, and we are offering certificates. We are also teaching drivers to be aware of pedestrians and cyclists to respect road rules and speed limits, and to understand the importance of seatbelts, for example. In short, we are covering every single aspect and factor that relates to traffic safety. In 2016, we will also reinforce our control and law enforcement capacity by increasing the number of inspectors and traffic police units on the roads.
How are you tackling illegal transportation?
We are taking measures to overcome this by requiring drivers to have the right documentation and urging people to choose legal and safe transport rather than illegal options. In 2016, some of our main goals include the restructuring of the institution and concessions of collective public transport operations. Independently of what I just mentioned, there are challenges to overcome in both public and private transport. We have to reduce the “red spots" in traffic, as well as traffic on the roads in general. We need to increase road safety through education for drivers and also pedestrians and cyclists.