Padma bridgeFile photo

Currently the fare for ferrying vehicles over Padma river ranges from Tk 70 to Tk 3,940 based on their types. But as per the proposal, the range of toll of the vehicles to cross Padma Bridge would be between Tk 100 and Tk 5,500. The increase is from 65 per cent to 71 per cent. Already questions have been raised on the proposal for high toll rate so much higher than ferry crossing.

High toll to hinder to  industrialisation down south

The proposal of a high toll rate for Padma Bridge could create some problems. Because of the high toll, the financial benefits and savings people were to enjoy might not be realised fully. Rather, the government has been taking steps to gobble up the benefits that people were supposed to get, in the name of realising the high toll.

That means the estimated GDP increase of 1.23 per cent through Padma Multipurpose Bridge may not be realised. If the cost of passenger and goods transportation increase from districts to be linked by Padma Bridge with other parts of the country, agricultural goods or services from the southern districts would not be able to compete in fixing an affordable price with other parts of the country. It would not be surprising if people take boats or trawlers to cross the Padma river with their goods even after the inauguration of the bridge.

Since the toll rate for small, medium and large trucks and lorries is unbearable, high transport costs would impede industrialisation in the southern districts surely. Industrialisation in the southern districts is already less as the region is prone to storms and other natural disasters. The government will realise toll from Dhaka-Bhanga expressway from July 2022. The cost of construction of the road is already a world record due to corruption at different stages, including in land acquisition (Tk 2 billion per kilometre).

As a result, we assume, the toll rate would be high there as well. There are at least two more bridges, where toll needs to be paid, and ferry from Dhaka to southern coastal district. Paying toll at high rate at so many bridges and roads will surely affect the agricultural goods and other services in the district, which will ultimately affect the industrialisation in the area.

Metro rail coaches
File photo

There is another problem of high toll rate. Some of the vehicles from the region would try to use the bridge as an alternative route, even by crossing a longer distance, to cross Padma river in case of any natural disaster, traffic jam, technical problems in ferry crossing, or problems in ferry crossing due to dense fog or storm. But high toll rate would dissuade this for two reasons: more fuel cost due to covering longer distance and high toll rate. There is no triangular coordination among distance, fuel cost and economic utility in the proposed toll rate.

The toll rate has been fixed from the conventional thought of realising more and more revenue. This is not a wise decision to bring speed in economic development, rather, this is like a stop-gap technique of a government that wants to earn money anyhow as it is in debt due to high deficit in national budget. The government takes high annual route fee to construct conducive roads for motor vehicle movement. The fee has been increased by three times in the last decade. Now, questions have been raised as to why the high toll rate to cross a bridge constructed at own financing.

Realising toll in large and medium bridges in Bangladesh never stops though it begins in the name of foreign loan. Though the bridge was constructed at own financing, finance ministry gave the money to bridges authority at 1 per cent interest rate. What is the rationality of fixing so high a toll rate against the one tenth interest rate of commercial banks’ industry loan?

On the other hand, there is discrepancy in toll rate as well. The rate is same for a vehicle of Tk 1-million and Tk 10-million. At the same time, rate is same for a normal bus and a luxury bus. This is how serving the rich has become the development philosophy of the country.

Nowadays, the toll rate depends on motor vehicles load, not their type. At the same, the toll system at Padma Bridge should have been a smart toll system. Recruiting a foreign contractors to realise toll is also astonishing. The high toll rate could be because of foreign company’s expenditure alongside the government’s intention to increase more revenue.

The toll system needs to be restructured in an economy-friendly way, considering the southern region’s agriculture, fisheries, small industries and other marginal economic activities, where the rich will pay more toll and a lower income person pay a lump sum, a heavy vehicle will pay more toll than an empty or light vehicle. At the same time, there should be consideration for agriculture and industry sector-based toll.

Is Metrorail fare consistent with people’s income?

The proposed lowest fare for Uttara-Motijheel Metrorail, divided into two sections, route is Tk 20. In this way, the fare from Uttara to Motijheel is Tk 170. Passengers will have to pay Tk 10 for each station approximately situated at 1 kilometre away. But the lowest fare in Kolkata metro is Rs. 5. Approximate fare for 2 kilometres is Rs. 5. A commuter spends Rs. 10 to travel 2-5 kilometres, Rs. 15 to travel 5-10 kilometres, Rs. 20 to travel 10-20 kilometres and Rs. 25 to travel more than 20 kilometres.

Many countries in Asia and Europe do not charge fare for every station, rather they charge a minimum fare for normal travel and charge the maximum fare for travelling for one or two hours. People become disinterested to travel by private vehicles as the fare become cost-effective. More commuters would be ensured if the fare of public transport becomes less than the private vehicles’ fuel cost.

It would cost Tk 340 if a worker or an office executive commutes on Uttara-Motijheel route twice a day. His travel expense would be around Tk. 7,500 for 22 working days in a month. How can an employee, who earns Tk. 13,000 per month use the Metrorail? It would be impossible for an executive, who earns Tk. 15,000-18,000 per month, to spend 40 per cent of his salary for travelling. It would not be possible to ensure the best use of Metrorail if the fare is not consistent with the daily income of private employees, day labouters , readymade garments workers, migrating workers, lower and lower middle income people. The traffic situation in Dhaka would not improve if Metrorail becomes a mode of transportation of upper middle class and upper class people.

Bangladesh is spending record amount of money in construction of roads, bridges and metro rail because of corruption at different stage, mismanagement, procrastination, extreme inefficiency of government’s administration in implementation of any project, increase of expense at different stage and dependency on foreign countries because of technological inefficiency. As a result, toll rate has been increasing, and the fare is becoming unbearable. Above all, high government expenditure is not being able to provide pledged economic benefits. We are not seeing any reflection of “unstoppable development” as the “service” this “development” is bringing forth is not cost-effective for the people’s lives and livelihood.

* Faiz Ahmad Taiyeb is a writer on sustainable development. He can be reached at [email protected]

** This article, originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla Online, has been rewritten for English edition by Shameem Reza