Authorities at a rail station in the Lao capital Vientiane are charging motorists high fees to access station parking lots, angering drivers who want only to deliver passengers or pick them up, Lao sources say.
Beginning Sept. 12, the Lao-China Rail Line Company has charged all vehicles entering the train station’s compound, with fees ranging from 10,000 ($0.63) to 30,000 kip ($1.88) depending on the vehicle’s size and number of passengers it carries.
One bus operator who takes tourists to and from the station every day must now pay 30,000 kip each time he enters, the driver told RFA on Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
“But I never have to pay when I drop passengers off at the Wattay International Airport, the Lao-Thai Mekong Friendship Bridge No. 1 or the North-South Bus Station.
“I only have to pay at the rail station now. This makes me sad and disappointed,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, a Vientiane taxi driver who each day drops passengers off and returns them from the train station said he had been charged 10,000 kip just the day before to pick someone up.
“I was there for only three minutes, so the charge was completely unjustified. The company should eliminate these rules,” he said.
Another driver who used his own car to take a relative to the station still had to pay 10,000 kip to enter, “even though I just dropped him off and left again as quickly as I could,” he said.
Meanwhile, overnight parking at the station now costs 80,000 kip, he added.
Vehicle operators parking just a few minutes at the station should be charged only around 3,000-5,000 kip each time they enter, a driver for a tour company in the capital said.
“I’m not happy that I’m being charged with higher fees now just to drop someone off.”
Tourism threatened by costs
The charging of high fees to take passengers to and from the station will hurt Laos’ tourist industry, since drivers will lose money if they have to take only one or two passengers at a time, a Vientiane resident said.
“They won’t want to provide services to people wanting to ride the train,” the resident said.
Reached for comment by RFA, representatives of the Lao-China Rail Line Company and Boten Frontier Service Ltd., the company contracted to collect the fees, declined to discuss the matter. But a former Lao official called Lao-China Rail Line a privately owned company with a right to collect fees.
“All vehicles entering a company’s private property should respect that company’s rules and regulations for their own safety and protection,” he said.
RFA Lao also called the Chinese company to ask why they are charging fees for cars dropping people off, but the contact deferred to management and refused to provide a phone number or e-mail address.
Opened in December 2021, the Lao-China high-speed rail line is a centerpiece of China’s Belt and Road Initiative of state-led lending for infrastructure projects tying countries across Asia to China.
The railway offers landlocked Laos the promise of closer integration with the world’s second largest economy, but also the peril of deeper indebtedness to Beijing, analysts say.
Translated by Sidney Khotpanya for RFA Lao. Written in English by Richard Finney.