The Dhaka-Chattogram Highway continues to bear the increasing load of export-import container transportation from the Chattogram port because businessmen are unwilling to opt for time-consuming transportation through water and railways.
Around 96 percent export-import goods-laden and empty containers are transported on the highway – known as the economic corridor of the country – while around 3.30 percent and below 1 percent are transported by railways and waterways, respectively, according to the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA).
Businessmen said transporting containers from Chattogram to Dhaka by road needs six to eight hours against at least 24 hours by railway and three to four days by waterways.
They said the load on the highway will reduce if the railway and waterways were made time and cost-effective.
The much-hyped 190.48-km four-lane highway opened to the public in 2016, with a high expectation to relieve people from gridlock. But it has brought little benefit with 67 percent goods-laden vehicles occupying the road.
The situation is taking a turn for the worse. The number of cargo vehicles on the highway is on the rise with increasing activity at Chattogram port.
In 2019, the port made it to the list of "three millionaire ports" in the world handling 3,088,197 TEUs (Twenty Foot Equivalent Units) while 2,761,628 TEUs were transported through the Dhaka-Chattogram highway.
The growing number of vehicles on the highway is also creating an increasing threat to the environment through high carbon emissions.
The Chattogram Port Authority (CPA) said for sustainability and reducing pressure on the highway, at least 1 million TEUs should be transported by river networks and a dedicated freight rail track can transport another million goods from the port city to the capital.
The Exporters Association of Bangladesh also stressed to reduce the pressure from the highway.
In 2019, from Chattogram 2,890,000 TEUs goods-laden containers were transported from Chattogram to other parts of the country. Of them, 96 percent were transported through the Dhaka-Chattogram Highway.
Railway, the largest communication mode of the country, transported only 3.30 percent of the goods to and from Chattogram port and Kamalapur Inland Container Depot.
Only 1 percent of the total container transportation took place by waterways from Chattogram to Pangaon and Munshiganj.
The cost of transporting a 20-foot container is Tk29,452 by highways, Tk29,142 by waterways from Chattogram port to Pangaon terminal and Tk24,851 by railways.
Data shows that the capacity of transporting export-import goods from Chattogram port by waterways and railway are being used fully.
However, the CPA said around 75 percent capacity of the Pangaon terminal remains unused due to low traffic in waterway.
Businessmen prioritise time and cost while choosing the transport. They prefer transportation by road despite higher cost because it is time-effective.
BGMEA Vice President in Chattogram AM Chowdhury Selim told The Business Standard they opt for the highway because the garments sector always has to make shipment of goods within a fixed timeframe.
"When we can transport containers at the same cost by road within one day, we have no reason to opt for uncertain options," said Mohammad Hatem, president of Exporters Association of Bangladesh (EAB).
He added transporting through waterways takes at least three to four days and sometimes it takes up to a week.
Moreover, container ships do not run every day from Pangaon to Chattogram – they operate after two to three days, he also said.
"Pangaon Port Authority has to ensure at least one trip every day on the route, then we can send export containers by waterways," said Hatem.
Manjur Rashed, manager of Neepa Paribahan Ltd, a vessel operator on the route, said, "We cannot run ships on the Chattogram-Pangaon route every day due to lack of containers. We have the minimum cost for each trip. If the quantity of transportation increases, the cost will reduce further."
However, Mohammad Hatem, also first-vice president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), said, "If they start operating ships every day, transportation of goods by waterways will increase."
He added if the authority would ensure inland container depot (ICD) facility at Pangaon, then there would be no problem to transport goods through waterways.
"If the time for transportation can be reduced, then exporters will be interested in using waterways instead of the highway," said Khairul Alam Suzan, director of Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association.
Contacted Ahmedul Karim Chowdhury, deputy traffic manager of Kamalapur ICD, told The Business Standard, "At least one million TEUs transportation should be made by the river network to save environment and to reduce pressure on the highway."
The transportation by railway should increase and to do that, railways need a dedicated freight track.
"We are taking different steps as businessmen are showing interest in transporting goods by waterways and railways. We are asking the operators to reduce fare and to run the vessel every day.
"To transfer 1 million TEUs, we need to develop more infrastructure," he added.