OTTAWA, Ont. - Canada's transborder trucking industry last month breathed a sigh a relief after learning U.S. Customs officials planned to practice "informed compliance" for a "reasonable period of time," when enforcing the new requirements for BR...
OTTAWA, Ont. – Canada’s transborder trucking industry last month breathed a sigh a relief after learning U.S. Customs officials planned to practice “informed compliance” for a “reasonable period of time,” when enforcing the new requirements for BRASS shipments at the border.
The good news came courtesy of Canadian Trucking Alliance officials, who met with U.S. Customs officials in Washington this fall in a last ditch attempt to convince them the new rule requiring that BRASS (Border Release Advance Screening and Selectivity) drivers also have FAST (Free and Secure Trade program) cards as of Nov. 15 could wreak havoc at the border.
The meeting gave CTA number-crunchers the opportunity to present U.S. Customs officials with the cold hard facts: about half of all loads crossing the Canada-U.S. border are BRASS shipments, but only 23,000 of the approximately 90,000 truck drivers engaged in cross-border trucking are registered for FAST.
That means only 25 per cent of Canadian truck drivers are currently qualified to carry BRASS shipments across the border.
Another 11,000 were awaiting interviews and a further 13,000 were elsewhere in the processing system as of late October.
The process is as follows: To obtain a FAST card, a driver must submit a written application, which he or she can obtain from a U.S. or Canadian Customs office. It takes six to 10 weeks for the application to be processed.
The applicant is then informed by letter that he or she has been conditionally accepted (or rejected). The driver then has two weeks (from the date stated on the letter) to schedule and appear for an interview at a FAST enrolment centre. (Should he or she fail to do so, the application is void.)
Each interview takes about 30 minutes. In October, the capacity of FAST enrolment centres across the northern border was approximately 770 interviews per week (10 enrolment centres open a total of 385 hours per week.)
CTA officials calculated that, as of Oct. 22, it could take as long as 15 weeks (until mid-January 2005) to eliminate the backlog of drivers who were awaiting interviews as of Sept. 30 – never mind all the new drivers who entered the FAST process following the more widespread understanding of the FAST/BRASS requirement.
More FAST delays
And even then, by mid-January only 34,000 drivers would obtain the FAST card – still only one third of the transborder driving force.
In order to complete the interview process for the remaining 13,000 applicants who (as of Oct. 22) hadn’t yet received their conditional acceptance letters; it would take another 17 weeks, until mid-May 2005, to process them.
And even then this would mean only 50 per cent of Canada’s truck driving population would be qualified to move approximately 50 per cent of all shipments trucked from Canada into the States.
In fact, for everyone who has applied for a FAST card to be able to get one by mid-January, the currently existing FAST enrolment centres would all have to be performing interviews 24/7 for 15 weeks.
(Moreover, CBP informed CTA that about a third of all FAST driver applications are being rejected because of administrative errors by applicants.)
CTA officials were therefore relieved to come away from their Washington meeting with the understanding that CBP would not immediately start turning back trucks on Nov. 15, nor start levying fines against carriers that were not immediately able to get enough FAST registered drivers into their trucks.
According to the CTA, CBP officials said they would follow a practice of “informed compliance” for a reasonable period of time. (CBP officials also agreed to examine whether fines should also be levied against shippers when the program becomes fully operational, according to the CTA.)
Still, CTA officials are expecting the industry-wide driver shortage will only be exacerbated by the new rule.
“The reality is that despite the best efforts of industry on both sides of the border, we will not have enough drivers registered for FAST by Nov. 15 to handle the volume of BRASS shipments across the border,” said CTA CEO David Bradley.
“If CBP were to commence hard enforcement on that date (Nov. 15); if trucks were turned around on the bridges and carriers fined, we could have chaos.”
Customs to roll out portable FAST enrolment centres
CTA said CBP officials also agreed to participate in a joint portable FAST enrolment centre program with the Canadian Border Services Agency, as well as review the possibility of extending office hours at FAST enrolment centres in general.
A trial of the portable enrolment centres kicked off at the Sarnia/Port Huron border crossing in October.
Customs officials on both sides of the border said once the rolling centres are fully operational, carriers will be able to request that the enrolment centres visit their terminals if a sufficient number of drivers are available for registration. (Further details and contact information should be posted on www.trucknews.com)
CTA has also posted a link on its Web site (see www.cantruck.com) to a CBP and CBSA on-line guide for drivers called “Tips for Completing the FAST Commercial Driver Application,” to help reduce the administrative rejection rate.
But while Bradley was pleased with the constructive way CBP approached the Washington meeting, he also had words of warning for carriers and drivers:
“The informed compliance period will not be in place indefinitely; all participants in the supply-chain need to get on with it. Neither CBP, CBSA nor the carriers and drivers who have complied will tolerate ‘foot dragging’ by other carriers and drivers for an extended period.”
Carriers who are concerned about a shortage of approved drivers should be discussing the requirements with their customers, including alternative means to clear goods, CTA officials advised.