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FAST drivers wanted

MONTREAL, Que. - Truckers heading southbound through Quebec's Lacolle border can do their bit for better crossing times by signing up for the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program right at the border.C...

CONVENIENT: The Lacolle border crossing offers FAST sign up to truckers.
CONVENIENT: The Lacolle border crossing offers FAST sign up to truckers.

MONTREAL, Que. – Truckers heading southbound through Quebec’s Lacolle border can do their bit for better crossing times by signing up for the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program right at the border.

Card-carrying truckers that drive for carriers pre-approved to carry specific importers’ goods under the FAST program can look forward to being processed at the border in as little as 30 seconds, compared to a half-hour or so if they have to show their manifests, park and pay a visit to their broker before continuing their runs.

Getting in on the program is a good deal because not only are five Quebec border crossings – St-Armand, Lacolle, Stanstead, Stan Hope and Armstrong – now equipped to process FAST-approved carriers, Lacolle will open a dedicated FAST lane by the end of April and St-Armand will have a dedicated FAST lane by this August.

FAST is the southbound equivalent of the Customs Self-Assessment (CSA) program operated by the Canada Customs Revenue Agency (CCRA), which offers expedited clearance processes for eligible goods to pre-authorized importers, carriers and drivers. “When a south-bound driver shows up, about a half a kilometre from the border a card transmits information to a transponder. It will show your ID and other information on a screen to a customs inspector before the truck reaches the border,” explains Guy Fortin, the CCRA’s, district program services officer at Lacolle.

Lacolle might get a dedicated northbound FAST lane this summer, but a plate reader or barcode reader may be used instead of transmitting the information before the truck reaches the border. Although roughly 400,000 northbound trucks, and about the same number south-bound cross at Lacolle a year, there is currently no estimate of how many trucks will use the dedicated southbound lane or that might use a dedicated northbound FAST lane. The worst delays at Lacolle are on the southbound side though, so the FAST program and the dedicated lane guarantee a big improvement.

“I get phone calls every day from drivers and carriers (asking about the FAST program),” says Fortin. “We do presentations to trucking associations, the Quebec Chamber of commerce, the Canadian Institute, which is a provincial organization that organizes forums for associations, brokers, etc. Usually it is the company that tells the drivers they need to register. The problem I find is that some transporters do not explain to drivers why they should register. So sometimes they don’t, or they have been arrested before, or have problems with immigration.”

Drivers without such problems or those who have had old criminal records sealed under Canada’s Pardon Program, can take the initiative by dropping in to the FAST processing centre in the Customs and Border Protection’s cargo processing center on the U.S. side of the Lacolle border.

Application forms and other FAST program information are available at the processing centre. Once drivers fill in their forms, they mail them to the FAST processing centre in Niagara Falls, where they are risk-assessed by the Canadian government. Applications provisionally accepted by the Canadian government are then sent to the FAST processing centre for the U.S. in St. Albans, Vermont. There the Customs and Border Protection does a risk assessment for the U.S.

Conditionally approved drivers receive a call-in letter asking them to contact one of five FAST enrollment centres for the U.S., for example, the one at Lacolle, to schedule an appointment. This must be done within 90 days of the call in.

“This is where we get to see the driver, review his documents and conduct an interview,” says a U.S. border official. “We schedule a half-hour for each driver.” Electronic fingerprints and a digital photograph are part of the interview process. If no problems pop up, drivers get their cards at this point and the program is explained to them. Although the U.S. customs official did not have the overall rejection rate for FAST applicants, he did say that the rejection at the Lacolle centre is low.

As of Mar. 19 drivers had submitted 40 applications for their FAST cards at Lacolle. “It is a good program that will allow a driver to go fluidly in and out of the country because the risk assessment has been done. The drivers can do their jobs and drive. A driver with a FAST card is a more marketable commodity. This is the same for a transport company, which has a leg up because it is already FAST-registered,” says Fortin.

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