The rationale behind the first-ever plan to charge a waterway toll for boats passing under a new railway bridge in Ho Chi Minh City is raising eyebrows from locals who depend on the river for daily life.
Local residents are wondering why boats traveling underneath the Binh Loi Railway Bridge will be expected to pay a toll, even though they will not be directly using the currently under construction infrastructure.
Crossing over the Saigon River, the new railway bridge, developed by a joint venture between GUD and STD, links Binh Thanh and Thu Duc districts.
The structure is part of Pham Van Dong Boulevard, a primary transportation route connecting industrial zones in the neighboring province of Binh Duong with the inland container depot in Ho Chi Minh City.
A representative of the developer announced that the ‘river toll’ will be applied to boats passing under the facility once it is put into operation during the first quarter of 2019.
The bridge, which is being financed under a BOT (build-operate-transfer) scheme , broke ground in late April 2015 as a part of an initiative to replace the deteriorating 112-year-old currently used by trains on the railway.
In the BOT framework, the developer receives a concession from the private or public sector to finance, design, construct and operate a facility for a certain period, during which it has to raise the finances for, and is entitled to retain all revenues generated by, the project. The facility will be then transferred to the public administration at the end of the concession agreement.
The project also includes upgrades to a 71-kilometer section of the Sai Gon River between Binh Loi Bridge and the Ben Suc Wharf in Binh Duong.
Though many agree the construction is much needed, the rationale behind the imposition of a ‘river toll’ is raising serious concerns.
|An architecture’s impression of the new Binh Loi railway bridge is seen is this photo provided by the developers.|
Asked to comment on the controversy, Vu Duc Cuc, a representative of the GUD-STD joint venture, confirmed that the waterway toll will only target boats with loads weighing more than 300 metric tons.
“The new Binh Loi railway bridge will prevent boats from being stuck during high tide as the vertical clearance will be increased from 1.8 meters to 7 meters,” Duc said.
Asked whether trains using the bridge will be forced to pay a toll, Duc clarified that only boats passing under the structure would be subject to the charge, and no trains will be subject to the fee.
Duc underlined that GUD-STD will not be collecting the toll directly, but will instead contract the state agency charged with overseeing ports along the Saigon River, from the Binh Loi railway bridge to the Ben Suc Wharf, in order to “ensure transparency”.
Addressing concerns that the toll will increase transportation costs and put further pressure on local merchants, Duc replied that the waterway toll is still less than the road toll trucks would pass to reach the same destination.
“Thus, the price of goods will not be affected,” he said.
“I believe putting the new Binh Loi railway bridge into operation will bring many benefits to transportation and trading as the existing bridge obstructs shipping between Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong,” the representative concluded.
According to plan, the new Binh Loi railway bridge will be opened during the first quarter of 2019 while the upgraded section of the Sai Gon River between Binh Loi Bridge and the Ben Suc Wharf will be completed sometime between April and June.