Dhaka-Mawa-Bhanga Expressway: Higher toll proposed, collection from July 1
"The increase in expressway toll will ultimately drive up the transport fare and people will have to bear it."
Even before implementing the toll rate previously fixed for Dhaka-Mawa-Bhanga Expressway, the government is planning to increase it, a move that will push up transport costs.
The Roads and Highways Department (RHD) has proposed four base tolls -- Tk 18.40, Tk 25, Tk 33.71 and Tk 34.70 -- 84 to 250 percent higher than the rate fixed earlier.
The finance ministry in April last year approved Tk 10 as the base toll -- proposed by the Road Transport and Highways Division -- for an interim period, until the opening of Padma Bridge.
The fee per kilometre for a medium-sized truck (two axle) is considered the base toll.
The authorities could not implement it mainly because the infrastructures required for this -- including four exits and entrances of the expressway and the toll plaza -- were not ready.
Meanwhile, observing the newly proposed rates are high, the Road Transport and Highways Division at a recent meeting proposed to set Tk 15 or 18.40 as the base toll.
However, a final decision would be taken following a meeting with stakeholders, expected to be held next month.
RHD, which is the custodian of the country's first expressway, will start toll collection from July 1, and until a new rate is fixed, they will follow that of the interim period, officials said.
A vehicle on the route also has to pay for using the Padma Bridge, which is in the middle of the expressway.
The authorities have already fixed toll for the bridge; the amount is around 1.5 times higher than the average toll paid by ferries plying the Padma river.
HOW MUCH A VEHICLE HAS TO PAY?
As per the interim rate of Tk 10 per kilometre, a medium-sized truck would have to pay Tk 550 for using the 55km expressway.
The toll for a bus would be Tk 495 (90 percent of the base toll), for a car (sedan) Tk 138 (25 percent) and for a bike Tk 28 (5 percent).
For using the Padma Bridge, a medium-sized truck has to pay Tk 2,100 while Tk 2,400 for a bus, Tk 750 for a car and Tk 100 for a motorcycle.
If the base toll is Tk 15, a medium-sized truck has to pay Tk 833 to use the expressway.
If the base toll is fixed at Tk 18.4, then it has to pay Tk 1,020 and if the base toll is at Tk 33.71, then it has to pay Tk 1,854. Rates for other vehicles will increase accordingly.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in March 2020 opened the 55km expressway, implemented at the cost of Tk 11,003 crore, making it the most expensive road (considering per kilometre expenditure) in the country.
During an Ecnec meeting in September 2019, she instructed the authorities concerned to collect tolls from long-haul vehicles on the national highways. The amount collected would be spent for maintenance.
RHD the next year had prepared a toll structure for the expressway following the Toll Policy-2014. Under the policy, the base toll is Tk 2 on each kilometre on important highways and Tk 400 for a bridge above 750 metres.
It was vehemently opposed by stakeholders, including bus operators.
Then, following the recommendations of a committee, and instruction of Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, the Division proposed Tk 10 as base toll and the finance ministry approved it on April 4 last year.
The RHD, which is an agency under the Road Transport and Highways Division, submitted four proposals for fixing the toll rate as the Padma Bridge is going to be opened on June 25.
One of the rates is Tk 18.40 per km -- which comes as the base toll according to the 2014 policy.
The department proposed Tk 33.71 per km, adjusting the inflation over seven years since 2014 when the toll policy was formulated and considering the quality of expressway compared to other roads.
It also proposed Tk 25 as base toll by just multiplying the interim toll rate with 2.5, without giving any expiation for this.
RHD mentioned Tk 34.70 as proposed by another committee earlier.
However, the Road Transport and Highways Division, after holding a meeting on May 19, found the proposed rates high. It said the rate should not be more than Tk 15 (1.5 times higher than the interim rate) or 18.40 as per the toll policy, sources said.
Meanwhile, the Division had called a stakeholder meeting on May 24 to discuss the toll rate.
But the meeting was postponed as, what the sources said, the outgoing secretary of the division Nazrul Islam wanted that the toll would be fixed after a new secretary takes over from June 4.
WHAT AUTHORITIES WILL DO?
Sabuj Uddin Khan, additional chief engineer of RHD for Dhaka zone, under which the expressway falls, said they would start collecting toll from the expressway from July 1 this year.
"A new toll rate would be fixed. If the new toll rate is not fixed before July 1, we will start collecting toll following the interim toll rate," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
In August last year, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs had approved a proposal to give Korean Expressway Corporation (KEC) the responsibility to collect toll from the expressway.
However, no formal agreement has been signed yet.
Asked about it, Sabuj Uddin said, "We are expecting to sign the contract [with KEC] within seven to 10 days. However, they have already started background work."
Replying to another question, he said the main infrastructure required for toll collection is completed.
However, KEC will introduce an automated system for collecting toll but they would require three more months to install it, he said, "Till then, we will collect toll manually."
Rustam Ali Khan, executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners' Association, said, "The increase in toll will ultimately drive up the transport fare and people will have to bear it."
Rustam, also general secretary of Bangladesh Truck Covered-Van Owners Association, said they were planning to hold a press conference to request the prime minister to have the toll rate for Padma Bridge reduced, the news about the expressway's toll rate further concern them.
Contacted, Nazrul Islam, outgoing secretary of Road Transport and Highways Division, said the toll rate would be increased as the interim rate for the period until the opening of Padma Bridge.
Currently, a vehicle has to pay tolls for three bridges on this route. "With all three bridges considered, the toll for the entire expressway would not be that much."
The proposed rate is lesser than the rate fixed for Dhaka Bypass expressway and Rampura-Amulia-Demra expressway. Both projects are under implementation, he told this newspaper last night.
People benefit from the development. So, they have to pay for it like other countries, he said, adding that the authorities will try to keep it at "tolerable level."
Asked about possible impact on transport cost, Nazrul Islam said the bus operators may think of increasing fares but they have to consider that the expressway would raise their trips and cut the travel time and cost.