By: Foday Manneh
The construction and inauguration of the “Samba Juma Bridge” in Basse, Upper River Region, in 2021, was received with immense joy and relief, overcoming the myriad of challenges faced by communities in transporting goods and services across the river Gambia.
The Bridge is a significant effort by the government to improve the region’s socio-economic activities, with the passage connecting communities in the Wuli, Sandu, and Basse districts.
However, the recent introduction of toll fees for the crossing has raised concerns among users, drivers, and commuters who lament the exorbitant rate, which they say has forced them to return to the use of canoes.
The Bridge was among landmark projects undertaken by The Gambia government in the Upper River Region through a grant of $81 million from the government of the Peoples Republic of China.
A chief driver at the Basse-Wuli garage, Gimmo Dibbasey, expressed disappointment in establishing the toll fee without their knowledge. On the other hand, Dibbassey welcomed the return to canoes amid high crossing fees.
“We were never informed about this. They just started stopping vehicles before crossing, and Commercial vehicles that paid D100 now pay D150. While Taxis are paying D50 for every trip (to and fro), whether you cross with passengers or not,” he explained.
“We are returning to our old garage because we cannot pay those expensive fees. And it is genuine for commuters to use the canoes for crossing since they cannot walk the distance to Basse,” he added.
One Ebrima Jawneh, a taxi driver who frequently uses the Bridge, said: “l have a four-passenger car which makes only D100 per trip. However, with the new tariff, they are charging me D50 for crossing. This is a loss to me, considering the skyrocketing price of fuel. So I have decided to park my car.”
“I make ends meet by driving to feed my family. But, after the introduction of the toll fees, I hardly get ‘fish money.’ This is too hard,” he added.
The Bridge is earmarked to boost trade in the Upper River Region, particularly in Wuli and Sandu, but current charges seem to be affecting business in the area.
“Initially, we expected things to ease when the bridge was inaugurated,” said Omar Colley, a businessman.
He added: “We usually come to Basse to buy goods for business, and if vehicles are not coming into the town, that is difficult for us.”
“We must pay donkey carts to get to the riverside, pay canoes to cross to the garage, and then vehicles to transport our goods to the village, which is expensive. If you add that to the price of goods, villagers will complain about the high cost. So we need help,” Colley said.
Commuters in affected villages, especially women, say the current situation is challenging for them as they struggle to feed their families.
“Thank God! we have a fresh harvest; this would have been difficult for us. But we still need ingredients for cooking. Paying fare to Basse is expensive, and goods are more costly,” Manyima Jabbie of Nyakoi expressed while talking to The Alkamba Times.
Whether it would last or not, the current circumstances largely favor canoe boat operators who have returned to their old activity and are earning income as commuters embrace the river crossing yet again.
“This is a joy for us because it affected our earnings when the Bridge was inaugurated. So it’s exciting to see customers returning. We wish it continues,” Canoe boat transporter Alieu Sowe expressed.
However, if the situation persists, commuters and drivers could maintain the traditional usage of canoes, limiting the multimillion dalasi bridge usage.