Carriers, drivers, O/Os can all benefit from FAST program
February 1, 2003
The border-crossing initiative known as Free and Secure Trade (FAST) announced recently by both of the customs and immigration branches of the Canadian and American governments is designed to speed up...
The border-crossing initiative known as Free and Secure Trade (FAST) announced recently by both of the customs and immigration branches of the Canadian and American governments is designed to speed up the clearance and release times of international shipments. The events of September 11, 2001 were the catalyst for these changes, but all users have been aware for several years of the need to streamline procedures and eliminate unnecessary delays. Now that just-in-time inventory systems are the norm, it is critical that release times at border crossings take into account the rush nature of supply- chain management. Because heightened security measures will be a part of our world for the foreseeable future, both governments have made serious efforts to deal with the long truck lineups.
The essence of the program is the pre-approval required for importers, carriers and drivers. Once a documented process is in place, the actual clearance procedure is expected to be faster than before. The FAST program, however, carries certain responsibilities. Importers, carriers and drivers are all expected to satisfy minimum criteria. For purposes here, I’ll focus on the driver’s role.
Without a pre-approved driver at the wheel, shipments routed using the FAST system must clear in the usual manner. Therefore it is crucial that drivers be encouraged to go through the necessary enrolment process. To be eligible, drivers must be citizens or permanent residents of either Canada or the United States. They must be admissible to both Canada and the U.S. under applicable immigration laws and have no criminal record for which they have not received either a pardon or waiver. In addition, they also must be considered of good character.
The process begins with submission of an application form that documents the driver’s identity to the satisfaction of the Canadian and American governments. There is a processing fee of US$50 (CDN$80).
Following initial qualifying, the driver will be invited to visit the Canada Customs enrolment centre where the validity of the application form and all supporting documentation will be verified. At that time the driver will be fingerprinted, and a digital photograph will be taken for the Commercial Driver Registration identification card. Finally, the driver will be fully briefed on the purposes of the FAST Program and his responsibilities under it.
Many drivers may consider the FAST qualifying process an invasion of their privacy. Nevertheless, this must be weighed against the many potential benefits both governments are promising.
These benefits include: Reduced information requirements for customs clearance; the elimination of the need for importers to transmit data for each shipment; the use of dedicated lanes for FAST-approved shipments; a reduced rate of secondary freight examination at the border; the conducting of trade compliance verification away from the border; and a generally faster release from the point-of-entry.
The FAST program is only open to ‘low risk’ shipments and these have yet to be defined. They might include automotive freight, bulk products such as lumber, steel, aggregate, as well as certain agricultural goods. Under that definition, the majority of U.S.-bound shipments may be eligible for FAST clearance. If that is the case, the lineups may only show a marginal improvement. But any lessening of release times will be an improvement.
Both governments have assured the transport industry that there will be dedicated lanes for FAST trucks to use. But until that happens they will still have to line up behind other commercial users while waiting for the expedited lane.
How should a driver weigh up the advantages to participation in the FAST program?
First, any driver not considered acceptable to both countries will be excluded from qualifying.
Therefore, anyone with a criminal record that could potentially be erased through a pardon or waiver would be well-advised to contact federal police authorities to initiate this process.
Second, in an effort to improve their profile with customers, carriers may begin to insist that their current drivers and any new hires be required to register as a condition of employment.
There could be privacy issues at stake here, again connected with the taking of fingerprints. Alternatively, drivers who decide to opt out of the program may be restricted to working in Canada.
Even with compliant importers and carriers, the shipment will be relegated to the ‘slow’ lane if the driver is not FAST approved. It is the opinion of OBAC that the driver’s willing participation in the FAST program represents one more level of competency.
Since both owner/operators and company drivers will be required to surrender a considerable degree of privacy, it seems appropriate that this additional commitment be rewarded financially. This could be through carriers covering the application fee for their drivers and owner/operators. For those O/Os who cover the application costs themselves, this fee is a fully deductible business expense.
It is in a carrier’s best interest to encourage and reward driver participation in the program. For O/Os and company drivers alike, it is an opportunity to increase their indispensability in a time when the driver shortage continues to erode the carriers’ most important resource: Their truck operators.
– A long time O/O, Mike Smith is a member of OBAC’s board of directors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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