The recent political strike and blockades enforced by the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami have led to reduced traffic on the highways, resulting in decreased toll collections on some of the country's major bridges.
Despite the disruptions, thousands of vehicles, including passenger cars and cargo transports, continued to use these bridges. The exception were long-haul buses, which remained largely off the road due to concerns over safety and a lack of passengers.
The BNP declared a day-long hartal on Oct 29 in protest against a police crackdown during their anti-government rally on Oct 28 in the capital, which led to violent clashes.
These clashes triggered a wave of unrest that resulted in attacks, vandalism, and arson on key highways across the country, affecting the Padma Bridge, Bangabandhu Bridge on the northern route, and the Meghna-Gumti Bridge on the Dhaka-Chattogram Highway.
Data from the Bangladesh Bridge Authority reveals that 127,105 vehicles crossed the Padma Bridge over the nine days from Oct 28 to Nov 5, for a total toll collection of Tk 157.6 million.
The number of vehicles crossing the bridge began to decline on Oct 28, with 11,402 vehicles crossing and Tk 14.4 million collected. During the hartal on Oct 29, traffic decreased further, with 10,356 vehicles crossing and Tk 12.6 million collected in tolls.
The BNP and Jamaat's 72-hour nationwide blockade from Oct 31 to Nov 2 led to 32,554 vehicles travelling across the Padma Bridge, with tolls worth Tk 39.7 million collecting in total, averaging Tk 13.2 million daily.
On Nov 3, a Friday free from political programmes, 22,706 vehicles used the Padma Bridge, resulting in a toll collection of Tk 27.9 million. This trend continued on Nov 4, with Tk 24.5 million collected from 20,234 vehicles.
However, as the blockade resumed on Nov 5, traffic on the Padma Bridge began to decline, bringing in tolls worth Tk 13.7 million from 11,004 vehicles.
A similar pattern of toll collection was observed on the Bangabandhu Bridge and Meghna-Gumti Bridge.
Ahsan Habib Pavel, executive engineer of the Bangabandhu Bridge, noted that traffic was regular on Saturday without the blockade. That day, 10,655 vehicles headed from Dhaka to the north used the east toll plaza, fetching Tk 11.1 million in tolls.
The west toll plaza saw 11,051 Dhaka-bound vehicles, resulting in a toll collection of Tk 9.65 million.
Conversely, when the blockade resumed on Sunday, the number of vehicles significantly dropped, with 7,945 vehicles passing through the east toll plaza, leading to a toll collection of Tk 7.64 million. The west toll plaza saw 6,002 Dhaka-bound vehicles, collecting Tk 5.12 million in tolls.
During the blockade on Monday, the Narayanganj office of the Roads and Highways Department reported tolls worth Tk 7.4 million had been collected from 22,472 vehicles. In contrast, on the previous day without a blockade, Tk 11.9 million was collected from 40,154 vehicles.
Shahana Ferdous, executive engineer of the Narayanganj office, said the Meghna-Gumti Bridge typically collects tens of millions of taka in tolls daily during regular traffic.
Atiqur Rahman Atiq, general secretary of the Sirajganj District Bus, Minibus, and Coach Owners Association, explained the reduced movement of vehicles during the blockade. While some buses still operated on local roads, the owners of long-distance buses are reluctant due to a lack of passengers and safety concerns.
Atiq emphasised that the situation is not unique to Sirajganj, but is prevalent across the country.