NEW RULES: The 'uniqueness' of the Ambassador Bridge and security challenges necessitated a new line release policy, officials have announced.
WINDSOR, Ont. – It’s the only project of its kind, and it’s directly because of the uniqueness of the Detroit-Windsor border crossing that it is being implemented.
Starting Apr. 1, trucks planning to enter Windsor via the Ambassador Bridge will have to be pre-cleared through one of the available Canadian line release programs: CSA/FAST, PARS, FIRST, A49, Post-Audit and In-Bond.
According to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) spokeswoman Andrea Kent the program has been developed “especially for the unique service and security conditions that are present at the Ambassador Bridge border crossing.”
The bridge is unique in having the only off-site inspection facility in the country. Since 1992 the 25-acre off-site has been located just off Huron Church Road, just over two kilometres after leaving the bridge en route to Highway 401.
Kent said the centre, owned by the Ambassador Bridge but used by Customs, was set up both because of the huge volume of truck traffic at the bridge (some 10,000 vehicles a day) and the lack of space on the bridge plaza to do inspections. “When you deal with volumes of that nature space is always at a premium.”
In the post 9/11 era electronic pre-clearance has become the norm for the vast majority of operators importing into Canada. But about 10% of trucks still don’t use line release. Kent said it’s hard to identify why truckers don’t.
“It’s difficult to say and you don’t want to generalize too much,” but she noted it could be because of the infrequency of crossing or the size of the company. Kent said those who don’t use line release now will simply be turned back.
The reason for the new system is two-fold: to improve security and ease traffic flow.
“Whenever we have trucks that are travelling inland for further processing requirements there is a potential that they will not report to the warehouse,” the official said.
There will still be a small category of trucks that will not be on line release.
These operators are hauling perishables like produce or meat and have “requirements for other government departments,” Kent said. The vehicles will still proceed to the off-site facility.
Government and bridge officials say the streamlined system will ease back-ups both at the primary Customs inspection booths on the bridge plaza and at the off-site facility.
“Absolutely,” said Skip McMahon, executive director of external affairs for the Canadian Transit Company, which operates the Canadian half of the privately American-owned bridge.
McMahon said the problem now is that truckers that haven’t pre-cleared cause delays for the overwhelming number who are on line release.
“What they do is interfere with the truck that’s prepared…he’s there two, three, four or five minutes while the officer’s trying to gather enough information to make a decision on whether he should release that load or not. The guy behind him is prepared and this guy is holding him up and everyone behind him.”
McMahon said the wider picture also shouldn’t be missed. “The more of those guys that we can take out of that loop, or we can deal with them prior to arrival at the booth, the better off it is for the entire trade community.”
Besides expediting truck movement on the plaza McMahon said the system will ease bottlenecks near the off-site.
To get to the off-site facility drivers have to proceed along Huron Church Rd. to Industrial Dr. and make a right turn.
After completing inspection and leaving the off-site they have to make a right hand turn back on to Huron Church Road and head towards Hwy. 401. “That’s going to very much improve that traffic flow up and down into that industrial corridor,” McMahon said.
Kent said despite the fact all trucks will have to be on line release, Customs will still re-direct some of these trucks to the off-site, but likely in the neighbourhood of “50 to 80” a day rather than the 600 that have been redirected up to now.
“The reason a load still might be referred still exists as normal,” she said. “An officer who reviews the information prior to the goods arriving is trained to look for certain indicators, as well as we work on intelligence information, as well as random examinations. So all of those measures are still in place and they do not change.”
Outreach sessions to explain the system for truck companies are being held in Windsor throughout March and more could be added.
“We’re making arrangements to possibly get up to the GTA and hold an outreach session as well,” McMahon said.
Drivers have been receiving information about the new system at the Canadian bridge plaza in Windsor. CBSA also has an Advanced Border Processing Center in Detroit to provide assistance to operators and importers during the initial phase.