Trucks get their own FAST lane
Trucks heading into the United States at the Pacific Highway port of entry are getting their own expedited entry system to ease congestion. However, like the NEXUS program at that port, it won�t really be effective until the British Columbia government adds extra lanes to the highway leading to border crossing.
As the NEXUS program does for cars and travelers, the Free And Secure Trade (FAST) program is aimed at speeding up commercial border-crossers by separating the probably good from the potentially bad. �We want to expedite low-risk merchandise and drivers so we can take a good long look at the unknown,� Customs representative Debbie Engels said.
Engels said they have signed up several dozen drivers and carriers and application forms are available at the Pacific Highway Customs office. While NEXUS focuses on who�s travelling in a vehicle, both trucks and drivers need clearance for FAST participation.
For a truck to use the FAST lane the shipper, the carrier and the driver will all need to be pre-cleared. The party shipping the goods will need to be certified under the new Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program, created under the December 2001 Smart Border Accord between the U.S. and Canada. �They need to give us information regarding the security of their facility,� Engels said. The carrier or trucking company will need to be enrolled in both C-TPAT and FAST, and participating vehicles will be inspected and mounted with a transponder to identify it to inspectors before it gets to the booth. Finally, drivers will need to be enrolled in the FAST program and be issued a radio-tagged identification card. �It�s very similar to the NEXUS card,� Engels said.
When a FAST shipment heads for the border, invoices for the goods on board are faxed to a customs broker in advance marked with a barcode. The broker transmits the information to customs for pre-arrival clearance and when the shipment arrives at the border the inspector matches the barcode on the invoice the driver is carrying with the one in his system. If it all matches up � shipper, driver, truck and shipment pre-cleared in the system � the shipment rolls across.
�What we�re doing is cutting out a few steps,� Engels said. �The driver doesn�t have to park, walk over to the broker, wait for paperwork, then wait in line.� The pre-clearance system has already been in place for several months in Blaine and is now being integrated with FAST.
As the program gets rolling FAST participants will wait in line with other commercial border-crossers, but because they will be faster to process the hope is all traffic will move a little quicker. All three primary inspection lanes have already been equipped for FAST entries.
�Once we have enough participants enrolled we�ll want that dedicated lane,� Engels said. With only two lanes for trucks leading to the inspection booths, she said they could not afford to take up one for the new system and squeeze all the regular traffic into one lane. �If we have one FAST lane and only one regular lane we�ll still have backups,� Engels said.
Engels said that, until the British Columbia ministry of transport expanded highway infrastructure leading up to the port it made little sense to establish a dedicated FAST lane. However, the wait shouldn�t be long. In November the Canadian and B.C. transportation authorities announced over $25 million would be spent improving border access in the next four years.
�We�ve got a long list of strategic highway infrastructure projects,� said B.C. ministry of transport Grant Smith. On the list are $8.6 million in improvements to the Highway 99/8th Avenue; $7.2 million to expand 8th Avenue to four lanes from the freeway to highway 15; and $3 million to improve the highway leading to the port of entry and add dedicated lanes for the NEXUS and the FAST programs.
Smith said there was not yet a set timeline for the projects. �They still have to go to design and depending on the complexity of the job it�s hard to nail that down,� he said.