New Year’s border could be messy without contingency plan: CTA

OTTAWA — Months of problems with a new electronic renewal system for cross-border transponders has the Canadian Trucking Alliance concerned it could lead to snarled traffic at border crossings.

The new system — the Decal and Transponder Online Procurement System (DTOPS) — was supposed to have been introduced in September. However, implementation was delayed twice due to problems and was not introduced until Nov. 17, which is just seven weeks before the end of the year renewal deadline.

Generally, it takes anywhere from eight to 12 weeks for the application and renewal process to be completed.

Even after launching and paper applications were suspended, the system has still been fraught with problems, according to the CTA, and the organization insists unless immediate contingencies are put in place, traffic could be snarled at Canada-US border crossings starting on January 1, 2009.

Compounding the problem, the DTOPS office has a staff of only 30 people to handle the processing of electronic applications, the backlog of paper applications and troubleshooting system errors and technical glitches.

Carriers complain that when they call the DTOPS office for assistance, they are put on hold for extended periods, or are asked to send an email or leave a voice mail. Follow-up is slow or non-existent.

Transborder trucking companies are charged a combination of fees each and every time they enter the United States. Trucking companies have two options for paying the fees: US$10.75 on a per trip basis, or be equipped with a transponder and pay US$205 per truck for the year.

The transponder renewal deadline is Dec. 31 each year.

In November, the DTOPS office told CTA it would have to process 1,400 applications per day to be able to issue all renewals before the end-of-year expiry date. The current completion rate may actually be as low as 285 per day.

Moreover, just last week CBP said there are still almost 90,000 transponder renewals to be processed, which would require a process rate of about 3,100 applications per day.

But according to CTA’s CEO, David Bradley, “there appears little sense of urgency at CBP; as of last week we were told there had been no internal discussion of possible contingency plans.”

CTA and its U.S. counterpart — the American Trucking Associations — have suggested CBP could adopt a policy of soft enforcement of transponder renewals on Jan. 1, 2009 that will allow existing transponders to be used without having to produce proof of renewal.

Alternatively, CBP could track cross-border trips using the Automated Customs Environment (ACE) database — all commercial vehicles entering the U.S. are required to file an ACE e-Manifest — and cap the cost to carriers at the same level as the annual cost of a transponder.

“The clock is ticking towards the end of the year; if the potential chaos at the border is going to be averted then we really need action now,” adds Bradley. “It will be very tough to get anything done in a couple of weeks’ time when more people are on Christmas holidays.”

CTA is calling upon the Government of Canada to intervene on the matter.

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