Ten years ago, the world was indeed a different place.
Case in point: There was talk of “loosening the required regulations” for cross-border commerce in the months leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, says a former manager for the largest freight carrier in North America on 9/11.
The intent was to modernize the system, thereby making it easier for commercial traffic to cross the U.S.-Canada border, said John Bourbonniere, a retired Western Canada manager for Yellow Transportation, now YRC Reimer.
“And when (9/11) happened, obviously that went off the charts and (border security) really clamped down,” recalled Bourbonniere.
But the result – at least for truckers – was positive.
Bourbonniere explained the onerous procedure his transport drivers faced at the Pacific Highway crossing at 176 Street in Surrey in the years prior to 9/11.
At the border, drivers would park their semi-trailers and then walk to the U.S. side to drop off a shipping manifest to each individual customs broker, of which there were 20 at the time. Once they reached the end of the line, the drivers would then retrace their steps to pick up the processed documents from each office.
Only then could they head back to their truck to get in line for primary inspection.
After 9/11, in response to increased terrorism threats, the U.S. and Canadian governments did a 180-degree turn in terms of border security.
The FAST (Free And Secure Trade) program was introduced. Commercial drivers who apply for a FAST card – vetted by the FBI and RCMP – are pre-screened for expedited entry into the U.S. and Canada.
“The good thing about (FAST) was that you were really assured that these drivers had clean driving records; no police issues,” explained Bourbonniere.
He says the company lost some drivers who elected not to apply for the FAST program.
“You don’t know whether that is because of the delays involved, or the extra scrutiny the drivers didn’t want, or if in fact they knew that there was something else in their background that would not allow them to get one,” he said.
The rest of the drivers had to get in the regular, non-FAST, lanes.
“Some people actually started calling the general line-up ‘the rot line’,” quipped Bourbonniere.
Pacific Highway is the third-largest commercial port in Canada clearing an average of 50,000 commercial vehicles per month, said Faith St. John, spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
From 2004 to 2005, it took approximately 6.8 minutes for commercial vehicles heading north at Pacific Highway to reach the primary inspection booth; in the 2010-2011 reporting year, that number decreased by 15.6 per cent to 5.74 minutes.
Over the next 18 months, the CBSA will be changing the way commercial goods coming into Canada are screened and processed through a new system: eManifest.
Highway carriers already participate in eManifest by providing electronic cargo and conveyance data to the CBSA before goods arrive at the border.
“When fully implemented, eManifest will be a virtually paperless process that starts before shipments even reach the border,” said St. John.