FAST program approvals need to be resumed

Mike Millian

Society, and our industry, have been thrown many curveballs and suffered many consequences as a result of Covid-19.

While governments, in most cases, have been proactive – reactive when necessary – and worked with industry and the public to strike a fine balance between public health and our economy, sometimes decisions get made that fail to take this into account.

A concern the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) has been raising for quite some time, continues to fall on deaf ears. This is mainly true south of the border, with our concerns caught up in politics at a higher level.

We first raised the concern on the pause of new FAST card applications in August 2020.  We understand why some services have had to shut down, including in-person interviews, in order to protect everyone’s health and safety.

At the same time, however, we have as a society and as regulators, determined that some things are essential to ensuring our economy and the needs of people are addressed. As a result, essential services have continued, even in the face of a pandemic. One of the essential services that has been allowed to continue is transportation, as well as cross-border trade and commerce.

While the land border between Canada and the U.S. has been closed to non-essential travel since March 21, 2020, truck drivers involved in trade have been declared essential and accordingly have been allowed to continue to cross borders uninterrupted, which proves how critical they are to our wellbeing and the economy.

The FAST program and FAST cards are used by commercial drivers and importers/exporters to allow for free and uninterrupted movement at the border to ensure trade continues to flow.

The commercial driver workforce has been hit hard by this pandemic, and in order to try and protect their health and safety, Covid has caused many drivers to either retire early or change routes and stay in their home country.

The average age of a longhaul commercial driver is over 50 now and prior to the pandemic, a shortage of roughly 24,000 drivers existed in Canada. As the Canadian and U.S. economies are trying to recover despite the pressures of Covid, the need for transportation has returned to pre-pandemic levels.

This has led to the driver shortage resurfacing, and carriers scrambling to replace drivers who have retired or left the industry with new hires. Many of these drivers do not have FAST cards, resulting in a major problem.

Border
(Photo: iStock)

While we appreciate the action CBSA and CBP took to extend current FAST cards for at least 18 months, this has not addressed the drivers who did not have FAST cards prior to the pandemic. With the FAST enrollment centers being closed for over 13 months now, this has left a considerable gap where a large number of drivers are waiting in queue for their applications to be approved.

We understand why this had to be done at the start of the pandemic, however, almost 14 months in this situation needs to be resolved as soon as possible. We believe safe methods to conduct these interviews can, and should be found.

While vaccines are rolling out in both countries, case counts are increasing again as a result of variants, and we still cannot be sure when border and travel restrictions will be relaxed.  Many sectors of the industry and trade have been impacted by the pause in FAST approvals, with the automotive and tank industries being hit the hardest.

Unfortunately, we are now getting to a point where health and safety will potentially be affected. Canadian drivers who transport dangerous goods in the U.S. must have a FAST card to haul those products. With carriers having to hire new drivers, many of whom are not FAST-approved, it means that they cannot transport dangerous goods in the U.S.

We have member carriers who distribute critical medical gases, including liquid oxygen to healthcare facilities in the U.S. Conversely, medical grade oxygen is imported from U.S. production facilities to supply Canadian hospitals and healthcare facilities.

As a result, this issue can potentially have a negative impact on both sides of the border. The lack of FAST-approved drivers is on the verge of having serious repercussions, and in a truly short period of time, may in fact lead to these loads not being delivered. This is not something any of us want to see.

We are hopeful a resolution to the current situation of approving new FAST card applications and continuous cross-border travel can be reached in a timely manner to ensure the health and safety of our economies and our citizens.

The PMTC has recently written border, transportation, and government leaders on both sides of the border with our concerns. If this is an issue you would like to add your voice to, please reach back to trucks@pmtc.ca and we can share the communication and contacts with you.

 

Mike Millian

Mike Millian is president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada. He can be reached at trucks@pmtc.ca.

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