Launch owners look to future with 'luxury travel' after Padma Bridge

The inauguration of the Padma Bridge will allow people to travel from Dhaka to the southern districts of Bangladesh by boarding buses or cars, but launch owners, who rely on river traffic, are not worried at all.

Said Memon, Barishal
Published : 19 June 2022, 11:32 AM
Updated : 19 June 2022, 11:36 AM

They believe the bridge will open new opportunities instead of limiting their business and the Dhaka-Barishal route will continue to pay dividends in the future.

Launch owners have already started preparations to inaugurate 'luxury' vessels on the route, promising more comfortable travel at lower fares than buses.

"The waterway travel will be affected at the beginning of the Padma Bridge's inauguration. Travellers will explore the road," said Saidur Rahman Rintu, chairman of Sundarban Dockyard and Sundarban Launch Company. "But waterway travel will last due to safety, comfort and low cost. If the rivers are kept running through dredging, modern vessels will be launched on the route along with the expansion of businesses."

Rintu, also a local Awami League leader and Barishal Sadar Upazila chairman, is preparing two new vessels, MV Sundarban-16 and Sundarban-14 at his Sundarban Dockyard on the bank of Kirtankhola River.

The vessels are equipped with modern facilities and they will operate on the Dhaka-Barishal route, Dockyard manager Sohag Mia said.

"The 315-feet long and 60-feet wide triple-decker launches will be equipped with elevator facilities. The launches will be built by the end of June and they will start carrying passengers in July."

The construction of another vessel, M Khan-7, is underway on a bank of the Sugandha River in Jhalakathi. The construction of one more vessel, M Khan-11, will start after Eid-ul-Azha, Dockyard Manager Tareque Rahman said.

"The number of passengers may drop in the first six months after the inauguration of Padma Bridge. But the situation will improve soon."

They are hopeful of passengers' return to launches as road travel will not provide the facilities they have.

"The launch fare is lower than the bus fare. Travellers can enjoy food, walk around and sleep in the launches. They will have to sit on the bus for a long time which is troublesome to many."

At least 10,000 people travel on the Dhaka-Barishal route every day. At least 250 to 300 buses are needed to transport them, but it's not possible to increase the number of buses on the route quickly. In addition, passengers will not get the opportunity to carry goods on buses, Tareque said.

It is expected that people will be able to travel to Barishal from Dhaka in three and a half hours by bus once the Padma Bridge opens, while it takes a whole night by launch. Many people may want to travel by road for emergencies to save time.

On the other hand, launch owners noted road crashes, saying there are fewer accidents in river travel. They believe people will choose launches due to their safety.

"People will travel to southern districts by road for the first few days, but they will return to launches. The Padma Bridge will not affect our businesses much," said Mujibur Rahman, master of the Sundarban-10 launch.

"A family can comfortably travel along with four to five members using a bed sheet on the launch deck. That is not possible on a bus."

Moreover, launch owners are trying to increase the number of modern and high-speed launches in consideration of the situation ahead, he said.

"Previously, a trip on the Barishal-Dhaka route used to take 10 to 12 hours. It takes six to seven hours now. Owners are trying to launch more high-speed vessels as well."

"The number of launch passengers temporarily dropped after the inauguration of the Meghna-Daudkandi Bridge. Now, it takes six to seven hours to travel to Chandpur from Barishal by bus. Launch saves more than three hours and the vessels are available every 15 minutes," Rahman said.

"The passengers now travel on launches more than buses. The same thing will happen on the Barishal-Dhaka route in the end."

Many passengers are not willing to be deprived of the pleasure tied to travel by launch. It's an emotional thing for many of them.

"Launch journeys are an emotional experience -- something very exciting. Low-income people will also prefer launch travel as bus fares are not affordable," Barishal resident Shahria Happy said.

At least six launches are operating on the Dhaka-Barishal route every day. But they are not available for 24 hours. At least 15 vessels plied the route during the last Eid vacation.

Three other launches also dock at Barishal port, said Md Kabir Hossain, inspector of the Department of Maritime Safety and Traffic Management under the BIWTA.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher