Technology Can Put Truckers in the Fast Lane When Crossing Canadian and Mexican Borders

By Mindy Long

This story appeared in the Nov. 22 print edition of Transport Topics

Safety and security remain a top concern for fleets crossing both the northern and southern borders, and motor carriers, including Celadon Group Inc. and Trimac Transportation Services, are turning to electronic transmissions, voluntary government programs and the latest technology to streamline crossings and protect their freight. 
 
“The way that Canada and U.S. Customs are going, this will be a paperless industry and everything will be done electronically,” said Brad Wood, customs compliance coordinator for truckload carrier Celadon.
 
The Canadian Border Services Agency became one step closer toward that end late last month when it launched the Advance Commercial Information eManifest program for motor carriers. The program requires the electronic transmission of advance cargo and conveyance information from carriers and is voluntary until 2012.
 
ACI was created to increase security in a post-9/11 world, but CBSA eManifest Director Jason Proceviat said the automation should accelerate processing times at the border. A similar program, ACE, was launched in the United States in 2007, so motor carriers are already familiar with the process. 
 
Trimac, a bulk carrier headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, is an early adopter of ACI. 
 
“This will streamline moves into Canada as ACE has streamlined moves into the U.S.,” said Cindy Hancock, a regulatory compliance supervisor for Trimac, which operates in Canada, the United States and Mexico. The U.S. headquarters of the company, which is No. 41 on the Transport Topics Top 100 For-Hire Carriers list, is located in Houston. 
 
Brian Culp, director of research and development for Celadon, said the Indianapolis-based fleet, ranked No. 43 on the TT 100 For-Hire list, is working closely with CBSA to be an early adopter of ACI as well. 
 
“We’re basically modeling this programming off of what we already have in place with ACE,” Culp said. 
To transmit data to CBSA, carriers can develop an in-house transmission protocol, contract with service providers or use the Web-based portal CBSA plans to release in early 2011. 
 
Once carriers provide their information to the CBSA electronically, they receive a conveyance reference number and barcode that they present at the border to link to their data in CBSA’s system. Eventually CBSA plans to introduce transponder technology and would like to harmonize it with the transponder technology the United States uses, Proceviat said. 
 
Richard Case, general manager of transborder and expedited services for Toronto-based Vitran Corp., No. 35 on the TT 100 For-Hire list, said the truckload and LTL carrier intends to be an early adopter of ACI and its internal IT department has been updating its programming. 
 
“We have spent literally thousands of dollars preparing. It has been weeks of man-hours to be able to transmit the data to customs standards.”
 
Monica Truelsch, director of marketing for TMW Systems Inc., Cleveland, said the software provider has been working with carriers on ACI solutions. 
 
“Carrier’s that have a core transportation-management software system that has driver information, truck details and load and commodity information, are a leg up over carriers that are using some systems that don’t use an [electronic data interface] yet,” she said.
 
David Zavitz is working with TMW and CBSA to coordinate ACI implementation for K.A.M. Trucking in Wainfleed, Ontario. He believes generating an eManifest will be easy since he already uses TMW’s dispatching software. 
 
“For us, it’s the natural option. But there are a number of companies providing ACI eManifest EDI solutions,” he said. 
 
To cut down on back-office ACI labor for carriers, PeopleNet has been implementing its geofencing and automated messaging platforms to enable alerts and electronic-form delivery to the border before a truck arrives. With the technology fleets can create a virtual perimeter in a geographic area—the geofence—at their particular crossings.
 
“When trucks trip geofences as they travel down the road, it automatically sends off e-mail notification and [electronic] document delivery to a predefined e-mail address,” said Brian McLaughlin, PeopleNet’s chief operating officer. 
 
Other TMW competitors told Transport Topics that they have not yet developed software systems that they can sue with ACI. 
 
In addition to costs to update computer programming, Vitran’s Case said there will be additional administrative costs to prepare each entry. 
 
“It is administratively onerous but on the same token, hopefully it does streamline things at the border and the number of border delays are reduced,” Case said. 
 
Culp said he expects to “experience hiccups along the way with testing,” but Celadon is hoping to get in on “the front end and have 12 to 15 months of trial and error to work through those issues.” 
 
ACI is one of several programs in Canada and the U.S. that are working to increase security, border officials said.  
In addition to being an early adopter of ACI, Celedon has embraced the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program — a voluntary initiative in which carriers agree to take extra security precautions. 
 
“In return, Customs and Border Protection provides some incentives,” said Bradd Skinner, director of the C-TPAT program. Those incentives include fewer exams for C-TPAT partners and access to FAST lanes. In September, the program surpassed 10,000 members.
 
Several carriers told Transport Topics they are satisfied with the program. Ron Joseph, president of TransX U.S., a unit of Winnipeg, Manatoba-based TransX Group that is No. 38 on the TT 100 For-Hire list, said C-TPAT certification helps keep his staff and shippers aware of security threats. Culp said Celadon has seen its wait times at the border and the amount of x-rays and secondary inspections reduced. 
 
However, Jennifer Fox, vice president of customs and compliance for the Ontario Trucking Association, said some in the industry feel they are not getting as many benefits from C-TPAT, the Free and Secure Trade program and other trusted trader programs as they had hoped. 
 
“Part of the problem is that when there is congestion at the border, it doesn’t matter if there is a FAST lane or not,” Fox said. 
 
FAST lanes are dedicated lanes located at 55 U.S. border crossings that allow for expedited processing for carriers that have completed background checks and take part in C-TPAT. In order to be eligible to use a FAST lane, every link in the supply chain for a particular load must take part in the C-TPAT program.
Trimac takes part in C-TPAT and FAST. 
 
“It has made a difference but it hasn’t been the difference we are looking for. We still have to get in line with the rest of the trucks for x-rays and inspections with DOT,” said Carlos Berriochoa, Trimac’s manager of international operations. 
 
What’s more, OTA’s Fox said, the carrier’s benefits are completely contingent on whether or not the importers or the shippers participate in the program. 
 
“It has become more of a marketing scheme,” she said. 
 
While several government initiatives are aiming to speed border crossings, carriers are worried a new federal requirement that motor carriers and exporters stipulate on electronic manifests the amount of residual product left inside trailers and tankers after making deliveries in Canada and Mexico could cost them both time and money. 
 
“Whether it is a dump truck with a few wood chips in the bottom of it or a tank truck with some milk in it, carriers
would have to file an e-Manifest to tell CBP what the exact quantity is,” Fox said.  
 
The requirement, which has yet to be enforced, was originally set to become effective in August 2009. CBP is currently working on a timeline for full enforcement, said Jenny Burke, a CBP spokeswoman.
Fox said in the past, that residual quantity was entered into the U.S. as part of the instrument of international traffic. 
 
“In a trailer you can have a rack, load bars, or anything that remains in the trailer to secure the load, that goes back and forth, but no one really owns it. There is a bond on file with customs to say they can go back and forth across the border,” she said. 
 
Burke said trailers with residual product “are not merely empty instruments of international trade.” She added: “The lack of compliance with customs laws is not only a security risk to the U.S. but a potential risk to the health and safety of CBP officers unaware of the volume or contents of the containers they are encountering.” 
 
Ron Martin, president of hazardous materials hauler Bridgeland Terminals, Elmira, Ontario, said the requirement will add brokerage costs and cause potential for a time delays at the border. An alternative to filing an eManifest would be washing the trailer prior to bringing it into the United States, which Martin said would cost roughly $250 per wash and $60 an hour in driver downtime.
 
Filing an entry will require a customs broker. Berriochoa said the actual entry will take roughly 20 minutes. 
“It has been a fight because of the difficulties and the time and the cost that it would bring to the people itself of having to do this,” he said. 
 
Fox pointed out another issue.
 
“The bigger question is who owns that residue,” he said. “Is it the shipper? Is it the carrier? Who is going to pay for this?”
 
American Trucking Associations has created a “hybrid solution” that would create a safe harbor for residue returning to the United States in quantities below 3% of the container capacity, said Richard Moskowitz, ATA vice president and regulatory affairs counsel. Carriers would identify the residue that is returning to the United States in an abbreviated manifest but would not estimate the value, which Moskowitz said is nearly impossible for the carrier to do.
 
Many containers return to the United States empty and would be subject to the regulation. For example, Berriochoa said about 90% of Trimac’s tank trailers return empty from Mexico. 
 
Joseph said southbound loads to the United States from Canada are becoming harder to find due to the growing strength of the Canadian dollar. 
 
As fleets look to increase their efficiency, carriers told TT they would like to have the ability to easily conduct in-transit moves — cutting through either the United States or Canada to make a delivery. 
 
Margaret Irwin, director of customs, immigration and cross border operations for ATA, said most fleets avoid in-transit moves due to the cumbersome paperwork it requires. 
 
“We’re looking forward to the time when Canada can collect information and when necessary pass it back to the United States,” she said. 
 
Joseph said the ability to cut through Canada would result in “significant” savings. “Obviously you can save miles in terms of operating when you’re passing through Canada if you’re going north instead of going all the way around the lakes,” he said. 
 
Proceviat said there are Canadian carriers interested in being part of an in-transit pilot project, but CBSA is “in a holding pattern until U.S. Customs Border Services comes on board.“
 
Irwin said a pilot program should be launching soon but didn’t know when it would take place. CBP did not respond to inquiries on the program.