Frequent commuters and traders on Road 16 in Champassak province, are voicing their discontentment on the high toll fares collected on the road that links the province to the Vangtao-Chongmek International Border Checkpoint in Thailand.
As previously reported by The Laotian Times, back in November of 2016, business operators, transporters and locals called for the provincial government to shut down the toll booths, complaining that the fares were excessive. However, since the toll booths are still up and running, road users are now imploring for the government to take over so that fares will be reduced.
Privately owned Duangdy Bridge-Road Construction Company was granted a concession for charging tolls for forty-five years by the government, and currently sets and manages fee collection for the two collection booths on the road. However, the high fees burden motorists and business sectors, and despite the public’s complaints the company has ignored the criticism and continues to charge the same fees.
The company began collecting tolls on August 17, 2016 after it heavily invested in widening and improving the road, 42 kilometers from the Lao-Japan Bridge to the Lao-Thai borders. The fee charged is contingent upon the type of vehicle and its destination. The rate for a small pickup truck and SUV is 20,000 kip per trip, 60,000-80,000 kip for a larger truck and 100,000 kip per trailer.
Champassak provincial Governor, Dr Bounthong Divixay disclosed that authorities have presented three possible solutions in attempt to reduce tolls, at a meeting between the Ministers of Planning and Investment, Public Works and Transport and other provincial officials.
The first proposed option was to negotiate with the private company to cut the fee base on a higher income per day. The second option was for the government to acquire 50 percent of shares because purchasing the project in its entirety would not be financially feasible. The third option was to convince the existing firm to sell its business to another private operator that would agree to lower fees.
The governor has confirmed that provincial authorities are currently bargaining with the company to provide flexible policies to accommodate regular officials and locals. For instance, officials who travel to work at the checkpoint will have a specially issued card distributed by the provincial authority, that does not require them to pay a toll.
However, entrepreneurs in the province have insisted on the government taking over the toll point, as the current high tolls managed by the private company have created a barrier for traveling, trade and tourism.
A senior official of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the province, Mrs Souksavanh Inthaphone, stated that many traders have also complained about toll payments and seeks for the government to intervene in order to control the fares and manage it appropriately.
At the same time, a senior official of provincial Information, Culture and Tourism Department revealed that tour operators have also raised the topic at discussions and urged the public sector to seek appropriate methods to solve it.
However, the provincial Trade and Commerce Department has stated that toll collection was not a pressing issue for trading within the province and imports and exports have been operating normally.