• Monday, July 28, 2014

No free road

Govt to collect toll in phases from all types of vehicles on highways; decision rings alarm bell

Staff Correspondent

The government has decided to collect toll from all vehicles using national, regional and inter-district highways in phases and use the money for repair, maintenance and development of the country's road network.
The cabinet at a meeting yesterday approved Toll Policy 2014 that will cover the 21,481km highways -- 3,544km national, 4,278km regional and 13,659km inter-district -- under the Roads and Highways Department (RHD).
The country has around 3 lakh-km roadways.
Of the 7,741 bridges under the RHD, those over 200 metres in length also come under the toll collection. Besides, the policy is applicable to roads and bridges built under Public-Private Partnership (PPP).
The Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) which has road network upto the villages remains out of the purview of the policy.
“In return for the toll, commuters will get smooth and well maintained roads free of unnecessary traffic and illegal structures,” Communications Secretary MAN Siddique told The Daily Star over the phone.
“We are not in a hurry to slap the toll,” he said. For instance, toll on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway will be introduced on completion of its expansion.


Siddique said all the roads and bridges connecting the capital city with other areas will be exempted from the toll policy, as it might cause further traffic congestion.
Toll will be introduced on the newly constructed highways from the beginning, he added.
Currently, toll is collected from the port access road in Chittagong, Jagadishpur-Sherpur Road of Dhaka-Sylhet highway and Chalan Beel Road on Dhaka-Natore highway.
“The government will bring highways under toll coverage in phases,” Cabinet Secretary M Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told reporters after the cabinet meeting held at the Secretariat with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair.
“The collected toll will be kept in the Road Fund which will be spent later on development and maintenance of the road infrastructures across the country.”
He said the lowest toll Tk 5 will for rickshaws and the highest Tk 1,000 for trailers.
There will be Tk 300 “base toll” for national highway, Tk 200 for regional and Tk 100 for inter-district highway. Some highways will be designated as “important” and their base toll will be Tk 400.
According to the policy, trailers will be charged 250 percent of base toll, heavy trucks 200pc, buses 90 percent, minibuses 70 percent and private cars 25pc.
Vehicles have been divided into 13 categories for the toll collection.
The communications secretary said the toll policy will soon be circulated all over the country. A gazette will also be issued.
He believes the toll collection will have no bad impact.
Experts, however, caution against political rent-seeking in the name of toll collection as in the past. They called upon the government to ensure discipline and transparency in the policy implementation.
Contacted, Former communications secretary ASM Ali Kabir said the road toll would be a burden on the people. Such toll will be appropriate only for express ways.  
Prof Shamsul Hoque of Buet's civil engineering department said the decision can be termed rational only if there is transparency and the money is invested for road development.
“There is a huge fund crunch for which we can't repair and maintain the vast road network. The move will solve the crisis,” he said, adding people will happily pay the toll if the government can keep the roads hazards-free and ensure smooth travel.
Some others said transportation of goods and traveling cost will go up on the roads where toll will be imposed.
Jahangir Hossain, who has rent-a-car business, said, “It will be an injustice if commuters pay toll but continue to suffer due to traffic congestion, accidents or plying of slow-moving vehicles.”
Shamsul Alam, a private car owner in Uttara, who frequently visits Chittagong on business purposes, calls it a good move and says he is ready to pay t toll.
“But it will be picking people's pocket if the toll money is misappropriated and not used for the road development,” he said.
The policy was formulated under the purview of the Toll Act 1851. The World Bank also recommended formulating such a policy.
As per the policy, toll will be realised by appointing contractors through bidding or open auction and by the RHD itself if there is no bidder.

Published: 12:00 am Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Last modified: 9:24 pm Tuesday, March 25, 2014

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