Every mega project in Bangladesh is being implemented for the development of the country and to make the life of the people of the country easier. However, the Padma Multipurpose Bridge project is one of the dream projects in Bangladesh, which has been built with full domestic funding. Through the Padma Bridge, 19 districts in the southern part of the country have come under the uninterrupted connectivity with the capital and other parts of the country by road, which has changed the lives of the people in those areas. Trade with other districts of the country has increased along with the southern districts which is contributing to the growth of the overall GDP of the country. Once the Padma Bridge is fully operational, it will contribute 0.56 percent to the country’s overall GDP. Besides, changes will come in the lives of people in 19 districts of the south. Prior to the inauguration of the bridge, in May 2022, the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges of Bangladesh fixed the toll rates for different classes of transport on the Padma Bridge. But after determining the toll rate for the bridge, many questions have been raised among the people of the country about the toll rate for the bridge. Most people think that the toll rate of the Padma bridge is very high. There is also a lot of words moving about, as the Padma multipurpose bridge is built with full domestic funding, then why do people have to pay such high toll rates?
In 2013, the Bangladesh government announced the construction of the Padma Bridge, the country’s highest priority mega-project, with its own funds. China Major Bridge Engineering Co. Ltd., and under contract with Sinohydro Corporation Limited for River Training, construction of the bridge began in December of 2014. The construction of the two-story Padma Bridge mega project has cost Tk 30,193 crore. The total length of the bridge, including the main bridge and the viaduct, is more than 9 km. In addition to that, to construct more than 12 km of approach roads for the main bridge, the project acquired 1471 hectares of land on both sides of the bridge and required a river training of 14 km.
Bangladesh Bridge Authority has implemented the overall work of the project including the main bridge construction, river training, approach road building on both sides, service area establishment, and land acquisition. As it is a two-story construction, ordinary vehicles including bus trucks will use the upper part of the Padma Bridge, and trains will go through on the lower part. Padma Bridge Rail Link Project is another mega project that is being constructed to connect Dhaka with Madaripur, Shariatpur, Faridpur, Gopalganj, Narail, and Jessore.
A minimum toll of Tk 100 is charged to a motorcycle for crossing the Padma Bridge. Besides, the toll is required to pay at Tk 750 for a car or jeep, Tk 1,300 for a microbus, Tk 1,400 for a small bus, Tk 2,400 for a big bus, Tk 1,200 for pickup, Tk 1,600 for 5 ton small truck, Tk 5,500 for a large truck with 3 axles and Tk 6,000 based on the trailer axle. The toll rate of the Padma Bridge is about one and a half times higher than the current ferry fare on the Padma River. On the other hand, the average toll rate of the Padma Bridge is almost double of the countries second-longest 4.8 km long Bangabandhu Bridge.
|SL No||Vehicle Class||Padma Bridge||Ferry||Bangabandhu Bridge|
|5||Bus (>=31 seat)||1400||950||750|
|6||Bus (<=32 seat)||2000||1350|
|8||Truck (5 Ton)||1600||1080||1000|
|9||Truck (5 to 8 ton)||2100||1400||1250|
|10||Truck (8 to 11 ton)||2800||1850||1600|
|13||Trailer (>4XL)||6000+1500 per XL||N/A||3000+1000 per XL|
From newspapers to social media, there have been a lot of questions and opinions about the high toll of the Padma Bridge. Many people are confused as to why this bridge, which was built with full domestic funding, requires to pay a toll, and even if the toll has to be paid, why is the amount so high? Is the toll of the Padma bridge too much for actual?
Why Padma Bridge Toll is So High?
According to the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges, if a bridge is built with foreign funding, the donor agency or the lending country puts various conditions or suggestions in determining the toll rate of the bridge. But in the case of bridges built with domestic funding, there is no such obligation.
So the toll rate of the bridge will be determined by the Department of Roads and Highways according to the the ferry rate before which the bridge was commissioned. However, according to a report by Prothom Alo, senior secretary of the bridge department Khandaker Anwarul Islam said, “It is standard practice to fix the toll rate of the bridge at 1.5x times the existing ferry fare. However, if the toll rate is higher, the government can reduce it.” In other words, the difference between the toll of the Padma Bridge and the ferry fare has been fixed in accordance with the government standard, and although the price is higher than the ferry, the toll rate is not too much at all. And toll collection on the bridge is done not only in Bangladesh but in almost all the countries of the world. Tolls are even collected on expressways in different countries of the world. For example, according to a Financial Express source, Tk 38,000 crore toll has been collected from Indian highways in FY 2021-22. In addition, tolls are levied on express roads and bridges in various states of the USA. Even the first expressway in Bangladesh has tolls on the Dhaka-Mawa-Bhanga Expressway. The bridge department has executed the construction project of the Padma bridge. The finance ministry has given a loan of Tk 30,193 crore to the bridge department at a rate of 1 percent, which will be repaid to the finance ministry in the next 35 years.
According to a report by Prothom Alo, out of the Tk 30,193 crore spent on the project, Rs 300 crore will not have to be repaid from the Japanese government’s debt waiver fund. As such, the bridge department will have to repay about Tk 29,900 crore as the original. With this money, an additional 1 percent interest will have to be paid in a total of Tk 36,403 crore.
Meanwhile, the bridge authority will have to pay Tk 600 crore to the government in first-year installments. In addition, the maintenance of the bridge will cost money every year. The toll will be collected from the Padma multipurpose bridge to meet this cost. For toll collection and maintenance, the government has set up a company in a joint venture on the basis of technology transfer with China Major Bridge Engineering Company and consulting company Korea Express Corporation, which is constructing the main bridge. According to the joint venture, the two companies will provide toll collection and maintenance services to the bridge management authority for the next five years and train the staff for further operations. The government will have to pay Tk 693 crore to the two companies for this work in the next five years. In other words, on average, about Tk 139 crore will be spent on toll collection and maintenance. According to a report by Prothom Alo, the bridge department estimates that initially, an average of 8,000 vehicles will use this bridge. In the first year, the bridge department has set a revenue target of around Tk 470 crore from the Padma Bridge. Which is not enough for the maintenance and repayment of the Padma bridge. However, in the future, with the increase in domestic trade centered on this bridge, the number of vehicles traveling on the bridge will increase to 41,000.
Thanks to the Padma Bridge, travel with the southern and south-western districts of the country has become easier and less time-consuming. Earlier, it used to take 4/5 hours to reach Madaripur by Dhaka-Mawa route by bus, and 5/6 hours to reach Barisal. On the other hand, it would have taken 5/6 hours to reach Jessore via Paturia Ghat, 6/7 hours to reach Khulna, and 8/10 hours to reach Barisal. During the Eid season, sometime it would take 15-20 hours depending on the vehicle pressure. In addition to ferry fares for crossing the Padma, various transports also needed to pay for parking.
On Getting to southern districts like Barisal, Patuakhali, Bagerhat, and Pirojpur by launch takes the same or a little longer time and costs less, but most of the launches leave at night and arrive in the morning. Moreover, all execpt a few launches are operated at night. In case of transportation of goods, it may take up to 2/3 days to travel from Barisal, Khulna or Jessore to Dhaka or from Dhaka to these areas. Due to this, many agricultural products from the south are no longer stays fresh on the way to Dhaka. Crossings by ferries or launches sometimes require long stops in order to avoid accidents catastrophic monsoon or winter fog which reduced navigability on the river.
Due to the Padma Bridge, the distance from Dhaka to Madaripur, Gopalganj, Barisal, Patuakhali, Khulna, Jessore, Faridpur and other districts has reduced. As a result, fuel costs have also come down. In addition, new bus routes have been created in these districts and due to uninterrupted road connectivity, buses and other public transport can move all day long. Various transport service providers are changing the route of their former Paturia Ghat to cross the Padma Bridge and increasing the number of buses they operate.
Besides, according to TBS News sources, Shariatpur traders have invested around at least Tk 200 crore in 250 new luxury buses for Dhaka and Narayanganj route. Earlier, the buses could not make more than 1 trip daily, but because of Padma Bridge, they can make at least 2 daily trips. Freight vehicles can travel through the bridge at any time of the day. In addition, the travel duration of 2/3 day for goods transportation has been reduced to 8/10 hours and the local trucks are able to return to Dhaka on the same day after completing the delivery. As a result, agricultural products such as various vegetables, fruits, milk and fish products produced in different districts of the southern region are reaching Dhaka in fresh condition. As it is possible to transport goods in less time, the trade of the southern region with Dhaka and other districts of the country is increasing. As the trade increases, the toll rate for traders is not much higher than that of ferries. On the other hand, due to the ease of travel, distance, time, and reduction in fuel consumption, it has become more convenient for the common man to travel across the Padma Bridge.
Besides, there is a comparison going between the toll of Bangabandhu Bridge and the toll of Padma Bridge. Inaugurated in 1998, although the initial toll rate of Bangabandhu Bridge was low, the toll rate was increased in 2011. After the increment, at present the minimum toll for crossing Bangabandhu Bridge is 50 Tk for motorcycles, 550 Tk for cars or jeeps, 600 Tk for microbuses or pick-ups, 850 Tk small buses, 1000 Tk for big buses, 1200 Tk for pickups, 1000 Tk small trucks for 5 tons, and 2000 Tk for a large truck of 3 axles and more than 3000 Tk depending on the axle of the trailer.
So, the toll rate of Padma Bridge, which is more than 1 km from Bangabandhu Bridge, seems 1.5x to 2x times more depending on the class of vehicles. According to a report by Prothom Alo in 2019, even if the toll is more than the construction cost of the Bangabandhu Bridge, it will take time till 2034 to repay the foreign loan for the construction of the bridge. It will take time to pay the toll of Bangabandhu Bridge even after collecting more toll than the construction cost of the entire bridge due to the increase in foreign exchange rate over the last two decades including the maintenance cost of the bridge and not increasing the toll rate as compared to the bridge. Thanks to the Padma Bridge, 19 districts in the south and south-west of the country have been directly connected to the rest of the country for the first time. The toll collection will be relatively low as the number of vehicles crossing the bridge is initially low due to the road being connected for the first time. Since the total loan repayment period of Padma Bridge is 35 years, this issue has also been taken into consideration while determining the toll rate.