President Ricardo Martinelli started the Metro project as one of his campaign promises to reduce traffic in Panama’s capital city. It has been a considered a great initiative, set to be completed at the end of 2013. Yet its construction has had the short-term impact of increasing car congestion of the city.
According to a poll conducted by the newspaper La prensa, involving 417 people, 54.4% said that every day they lost two to three hours traveling at some point in the city, 33%, less than two hours and 12.4%, four hours. This means that the average citizen is losing around 2.5 days sitting in their cars. The effects of this time spend in traffic are profound both psychologically and economically.
A study by TomTom, makers of GPS devices, revealed that traffic jams can raise driver stress levels by up to 60%. Higher stress levels can lead to health problems, underperformance at work, unhappiness, frustration with the government, and even violence.
The economic effects are also costly. According to a survey done by the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture Panama’s daily traffic nightmare is costing local businesses about a million dollars a day. This cost includes the purchase of extra trucks and motorcycles to speed deliveries, overtime pay for workers, increased fuel costs and the use of private highways called ‘Corredores’. The study was applied to more than 7,000 industrial and retail businesses. The total expenses companies face due to the increased traffic totals at US$154.4 million for six months.
Yet there are those who have benefitted from this frustrating situation. Between January and July this year, the petroleum industry and gas station owners have sold 573.136 million gallons a significant increase against 564.270 million gallons in the same period last year.
Many citizens have of course deemed this unacceptable. Recommendations to alleviate the situation include night time delivery for businesses and that public works on the streets be done only at night to keep as many traffic lanes open as possible. It is not clear though whether the government and private businesses will listen to this advice.