New online pre-pay option announced by CBP
Congressman Brian Higgins announced a new online pre-pay option for commercial vehicles made available by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the latest effort to support a more efficient flow of traffic across the U.S./Canadian border crossings in Western New York.
"Antiquated payment procedures are slowing the movement of goods in commercial vehicles across the border and contributing to bottlenecks for passenger vehicles," Higgins said. "Under this new program, we remove what can be a time-consuming step, which is not only stalling traffic, but stalling economic opportunity from the border-crossing process, providing a win-win for travelers and for our regional and national economies."
A pilot project will begin this month allowing commercial vehicle operators to prepay the single-crossing user fee online prior to arrival at a port of entry. Buffalo is one of three sites nationwide, including Detroit and El Paso, which will test the effectiveness of the effort over a one-year pilot period. Following the pilot, CBP will undertake a 90-day evaluation to consider implementation at all U.S. land ports of entry.
The initiative, first announced by Higgins in February, was included in the fiscal year 2017 budget for the Department of Homeland Security.
According to information included in the DHS budget: "The current manual process results in increased wait times and fuel costs for carriers and loss of work hours for CBP. For example, at the Port of Buffalo in FY 2015, approximately 1,700 work hours were spent performing cash collections on primary (each commercial truck inspection took an average of 80-90 seconds per vehicle). User fee collections for FY 2015 in the Port of Buffalo was approximately $774,000. This equates to approximately 72,000 collections (7.6 percent of commercial trucks). Preliminary analysis from an independent contractor indicates that implementing an automated user fee collection solution could result in a potential 6.5 percent decrease in processing times and 5.5 percent increase in throughput in Buffalo alone."
Currently, commercial vehicles crossing the border pay a CBP user fee. Truck operators who cross the border on a regular basis frequently purchase a transponder containing information about the vehicle and border crossing user fee payment status to allow for expedited processing. When commercial carriers don't purchase an annual transponder, the driver is required to pay a $13.05 user fee per crossing. The collection of this user fee causes significant delays in cash collection, processing and backups on the bridge.
Under the new program, commercial truck operators will be able to pay the single-crossing user fee online through the decal/transponder online procurement system website, which will include mobile phone-friendly features. Users will receive payment confirmation via an electronic receipt.
Higgins said the implementation of this pilot project comes at an ideal time, as the Peace Bridge Authority commences an $80.5 million redecking project at the Peace Bridge, which will require lane closings this fall. The resurfacing is part of a multiphase $186 million renovation of the Peace Bridge.
Higgins is co-chair of the congressional northern border caucus and a member of the House committees on foreign affairs and homeland security. Higgins' Western New York district borders Southern Ontario and includes three automobile and two rail crossings between the U.S. and Canada.