Decorating a BUS RED DEVIL DIABLO ROJO PAINTED BUS PANAMA CITY REPUBLIC OF PANAMA. Albrok bus station terminal. Panama. Here comes the Diablo Rojo, the Red Devil bus blasting its air horn and fishtailing around a fellow “demon” just in time to claim Irma Betancourt and other morning commuters. Suffice it to say the Red Devils earn their name. “They are crazy,” said Ms. Betancourt, 33, a housekeeper at a downtown hotel, boarding on a main boulevard. “We all know that. All they care about is getting the fare. So many times we have almost hit somebody.”  Wandering around Panama City it’s hard to miss these crazy fuckin buses rolling around the city. Converted school buses are used as inexpensive public transportation. Each bus in the city is individually decorated which makes an interesting catch whenever rolling around. The average cost to ride one of these buses is 25 cents!  “Almost” may make her bus one of the lucky ones, as they are known to have taken more than a few souls for the sake of a pickup.  Her bus on a recent morning is like hundreds of others, a converted, cast-off American school bus ablaze with color, usually heavy on the red.  As if painted by a graffiti artist addicted to action movies and sports, they often boast fanciful, dreamy scenes, including, improbably, a looming Dumbledore from the Harry Potter movies glaring at Ms. Betancourt as she climbs aboard.  Reggaetón, salsa and other bass-heavy music concuss the air, to attract riders to the privately owned buses. Growling mufflers contribute to the soundtrack of the streets. And no self-respecting grille lacks a wild string of Christmas lights.  Typical fare: 25 cents.  “They evolved into the most visually dominant aspect of Panama City,” said Peter Szok, a professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth who has studied the buses and the folk art of Panama.  It is a tradition elsewhere in the region as well, in other Panama cities as well as in countries like Suriname, where the buses are adorned with politically tinged portraits of heroes and outlaws. But here, at least, the ride is coming to an end.  The buses, many of them retired from Florida schools, have been the backbone of public transit here for more than four decades, with the tradition of decorating vehicles used for public transportation going back even further. Mr. Szok traces the art form to a desire to reflect Latin music styles and an idealized life.  Panama City, however, is rapidly modernizing, with a towering skyline and sprawling shopping malls that promoters hope will put it on the map as another Singapore.  With that has come a push for order. A subway is being dug. Roadways are being built or planned. The Red Devils, owned and operated by their drivers with no real set schedule, are being phased out in favor of something decidedly more vanilla and benign, a Metro Bus system with generic boxy white vehicles familiar in any cities. The only dash of a color is an orange slash.  “Safe, comfortable, reliable,” is the slogan. There is even a route map.  President Ricardo Martinelli, whose administration has championed the new system, has pointed to the new buses as a sign of progress, blaming the Red Devils for accidents and accusing them of unreliable service.  “They will race from one end of the city to the other, killing people, killing themselves,” he said in a speech in Washington in April. “Yeah, a lot of people were killed.”  But the Metro Buses, too, are drawing complaints, mainly for slow service. The 25-cent fare on most routes is expected to rise to 45 cents next year, and is already drawing grimaces. Some have taken to calling them the Diablos Blancos, the White Devils.  “Hey! The line starts back there,” several people shouted at one crowded downtown Metro Bus stop as their ride finally arrived in a downpour.  “Look at this long line and little bus shelter,” said David Polo, 33, who had been waiting for more than 20 minutes. “The new buses may be safer, but they need more of them.”  Panama’s transportation officials said the Red Devils, numbering about 1,200 in recent years, would be gone by the end of this year, but the plan has been delayed more than once as the new system seeks to hire and train drivers.  As the Red Devils disappear — some of them, in the ultimate twist of fate, converted back to school buses, and others dismantled for scrap or sitting in bus boneyards — something a bit unexpected has emerged.  Sympathy for the Red Devils.  The nostalgia ranges from the tongue in cheek — a “Save the Diablo Rojo” YouTube video purports to mourn the end of tourists’ losing their wallets, among other things, on them — to genuine regrets.  “It is a loss of part of our culture,” said Analida Galindo, a co-director of the Diablo Rosso art gallery in the historic Casco Viejo neighborhood. Yes, the gallery name is a play on the Red Devils’ name.  The gallery sells bus doors painted by one of the more prolific Red Devil artists, Oscar Melgar, for $2,500 (no takers yet).  Mr. Szok said the painters were largely self-taught, many of them the sons of West Indian immigrants, though some in later years had gone to art school. They typically charged $2,000 and up to paint the buses, meaning some are a kaleidoscope of images while, in others, the yellow has been barely painted over, depending on the wherewithal of the driver.  “It was a great tradition that people are going to miss,” said one of the painters, Ramón Enrique Hormi, known as Monchi. “Here it is Christmastime, and what am I going to do? I have nothing.”  Some owners, too, have complained that the $25,000 that the government is offering them in compensation for giving up their buses may sound generous but will not carry them very far.  Several drivers said they could not get jobs with Metro Bus because of their poor driving records, though the new system has hired many Red Devil drivers.  Other drivers said they had long held second jobs and would find other work.  “Everything has to come to an end someday,” one driver, Juan Estanciola, said on a recent day outside his modestly painted bus, which is mostly white with purple trim and bears sayings like “Don’t let my presence mess with your mind.”  He spoke at the door of his bus, which had just collided with a taxi on a rainy afternoon.  “It was his fault,” he said. “He cut in front of me. They don’t know how to drive.”