Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is set to inaugurate the Padma Bridge on that day, with the structure expected to revolutionise Bangladesh’s transportation sector, saving both time and cost.
People who travel to those parts of the country regularly prefer to travel by launch as the services are, in the words of the bus owners, “affordable, comfortable and less time-consuming” while coach services usually take longer due to interceptions in the middle of the route, which sometimes even take days, for ferry services through Daulatdia-Paturia or Shimulia-Kathalbari points.
Commodity hauliers and truckers use the same points to transport goods. The route is very crucial for them as it is the only link as of now to Benapole, the busiest land port in Bangladesh with India, and Mongla, the second largest seaport in Bangladesh, from Dhaka.
The soon-to-open bridge will create new business opportunities for the state and privately-owned human transport companies as they have been gearing up to open new routes.
Commodity hauliers and trucking companies are expanding their fleets to meet the increased demands as soon as the bridge opens.
The Padma Bridge is expected to shave off three and a half hours of the travel time from Dhaka to Barishal by bus. It now takes an overnight launch trip.
Salahuddin, who drives a bus for Hanif Paribahan on the route, said it takes seven to eight hours to reach Barishal from Gabtoli through the ferry terminal at Paturia, including one hour to cross the river. It takes additional time when the wait for ferries gets longer.
Most of the passenger services to the country’s south-western region operate from Dhaka’s Gabtoli. According to the owners, at least 115 companies run 1,100 coaches from Gabtoli.
Apart from these, at least 150 coaches are being operated on 25 routes at present out of Sayedabad Bus Terminal and from Gulistan.
Bus owners have been contemplating adding more features to their services to attract more customers to compete with the already popular launch services.
Ramesh Chandra Ghosh, chairman of Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners' Association, said they have plans to expand their routes from Chattogram and Sylhet to south-western districts as soon as the bridge opens.
“First, we need to conduct passenger surveys to understand which routes have more demands. As most of the passengers as of now use the waterways to travel to that part of the country, we're seriously considering what offers we can make to the passengers so that they opt for coach services instead of launch rides,” he said.
At present, coaches from the Sayedabad terminal are not very popular among the passengers because of the interruptions in the middle of the journey. The ferry services in Shimulia-Kathalbari points are paused at the moment after a ferry collided with a pillar of the bridge some time ago.
The coach companies have since then used one bus to take the passengers to Shimulia ferry terminal, then they take a smaller launch to cross the river before the passengers board a different bus, run by the same coach company.
Jahangir Alam Chowdhury, general secretary of the Greater Southern Bangladesh Coaches and Buses Owners’ Association, said the coaches will run directly after the bridge opens.
“We're planning to add more coaches to our fleet. Moreover, major operators like Shyamoli and Hanif will start operating coaches from Sayedabad as well,” he said.
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, or BRTA, has already received multiple applications from private coach owners to secure permits for eight new routes.
Nur Mohammad Majumder, chairman of the BRTA, said a committee is assessing the applications at the moment.
“No applications have been granted as yet. A committee led by the divisional commissioner is going through the paperwork now. If the committee recommends, we may issue the permits,” he said.
Meanwhile, the state-owned passenger transportation company, Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation, or BRTC, has decided to run more air-conditioned buses on some new routes to the southwest via the Padma Bridge, said its chairman Md Tajul Islam.
At present, BRTC runs air-conditioned buses from Dhaka to Khulna, Dhaka to Jashore and Dhaka to Pirojpur routes.
Bus owners say business on the Dhaka-Chattogram-Cox's Bazar-Sylhet-Rangpur route is not going well. However, they have dreams about the future of the Padma Bridge route.
But no one has committed seriously to the route. They are still waiting to see how things pan out once the bridge opens.
However, two buses from Chattogram to Kuakata were introduced on Jun 16, said Abdul Haque, general manager of Unique Company, adding that two more buses will be pressed into service on this route.
Shyamoli Paribahan Manager Ashraf Ali said they have buses on all routes, except to the south and plan to operate buses to the region, while Dreamline Transport owner Saiful Islam prefers to watch the situation before adding more vehicles.
Dr Md Hadiuzzaman, director of the BUET Accident Research Institute, told bdnews24.com that the new bridge will play a major role in creating a balance in the communication system in the southwestern region.
“You require the trinity of rail, highway and waterways to create a perfect balance in the communication system. People travelling to that part [south-western region] have suffered enough. The bridge will remove the hassles and will work as a conduit for economic and tourism corridors,” he said.
TRANSPORTATION OF GOODS
Fish farmer Sohel of Gopalganj produces 93.35 metric tonnes of fish on his farm every year.
He, however, is forced to sell the fish in the local market for less because the fish remain fresh for a certain time and often it takes longer to transport those to bigger markets like in Dhaka or other metropolises, on the other side of river Padma.
The veteran fish farmer is optimistic that his days are about to change forever as soon as the bridge opens to the public.
“I may be able to charge Tk 10 extra for each kilogram of fish if I can sell in markets in Dhaka,” he said.
Similarly, many farmers who grow flowers, which also have a freshness factor involved, were so far reluctant to transport flowers to the markets in Dhaka or Chattogram because of the transportation issue.
Jashore and surrounding districts are known as the ‘flower basket’ in Bangladesh, as almost Tk 10 billion worth of flowers grow in the region.
Abdur Rahim, chairman of Bangladesh Flower Society, hopes that things will change after the bridge opens.
“More than 70 percent of the country’s demand for flowers is met with products from this region. Many of our small-scale colleagues lost their flowers and vegetables as those perished inside the carrying vans stuck in the Daulatdia ferry terminal, sometimes even for days. So they were unwilling to move their products. Now those farmers can haul their products to Dhaka in a shorter time,” he said.
Rustam Ali Khan, general secretary of Bangladesh Truck-Covered Van, Tank Lorry, Prime Mover Owners’ Association, told bdnews24.com that growers of perishable goods and products and raw materials will reap the maximum benefit from the bridge.
“No matter how clear the terminal [ferry terminal] is, it usually takes at least 24 hours for trucks to cross the river. Sometimes, it can take more than two or three days. So small perishable product growers were reluctant to move their goods. Now they can transport their goods within 24 hours because of the bridge,” he said.
Rustam also said they are in talks with the truck and covered van owners so that they can add more vehicles to their fleet to meet the demand.
[Writing in English by Adil Mahmood, editing by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]