Let’s Talk Issue 2: Opening Our Border, Post-COVID
With Let’s Talk, we spotlight important issues that may affect local businesses like yours. We also want to know what you think, in a feedback blog for Chamber members only. In each issue, we highlight single themes of concern and opportunity, but definitely not all!
It has been two years of pain for anyone — or company — depending on seamless international transit. Topping out those troubles was a U.S.- Canadian border slow to reopen to non-essential traffic, alongside lengthy quarantines affecting countless travellers.
Earlier this year, convoy demonstrations also blocked several crossings along the U.S.-Canada border and hurt the economies of both nations.
The Covid impact itself has been dramatic, notes Stephanie Dafoe, from her perspective as Chief Operating Officer of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.
“The addition of the various public health measures throughout the pandemic has added another layer at the border and has had an impact on both the volume of traffic, and how quickly traffic can be processed,” Dafoe said.
As various restrictions have lifted, “we have seen an increase in the volume of traffic,” she said. “However, we are still about 50% of pre-pandemic levels for auto traffic even with the latest changes (in late April).”
Still, it’s a far cry from the “85-87% down that we experienced during the majority of the pandemic for auto traffic,” said Dafoe.
This link below takes you to their statistics calculator, with 2019 a comparison year for pre-pandemic levels, as 2020, 2021 and 2022 were all been impacted by COVID. The data provided isn’t detailed enough to highlight American-registered vehicles.
Also, click on below for current border wait times – Niagara Bridges:
Months of cross-border mandate and quarantine restrictions are now largely off the table, and Canada’s lifting of Covid testing requirements in April has been a relief for many.
However, a cloud has loomed in the mandatory use of the ArriveCAN App, which will result in much longer processing times and lengthy border waits.
In a recent editorial to Torstar, South Niagara Chambers of Commerce Executive Director Dolores Fabiano had concerns about the federal online public-health requirement for border crossings.
“While public health should always be considered in the actions we take, I’m unsure how this particular requirement ensures additional safety,” Fabiano writes, in part. “We want to confirm that visitors coming to Canada meet our requirements, but a requirement that is not well publicized, based on technology that not all travelers may be comfortable with, will be a deterrent to many considering making the trip.”
In her piece, Fabiano notes longer processing times will ultimately create border gridlock. When bridges are jammed with cars and trucks obstructed from getting to their inspection booths, it means that commercial wait times will also increase.
She suggests one solution, is to “open up all customs booths at border crossings to ensure we have adequate resources to deal with the additional processing time that we know will be required.”
Kevin Jacobi, Executive Director of CanadaBW Logistics Inc., shares the concerns of Fabiano and other border stakeholders — many of them represented by Chamber members.
“I don’t believe the ArriveCAN app is a benefit to land crossings,” Jacobi says.
Jacobi notes though bridge traffic is down significantly, we are still enduring border waits for cars that can be over one hour.
“Many people from the U.S. are unsure of what is needed and, if there are multiple people in the car — you have cellphones passed around … This is a huge deterrent for people deciding to cross or not.”
This isn’t just a tourism problem, he adds; it’s a headache for trucking as well. These long lines of cars block truck lanes and cause increased delays, which reduce the range for trucks before they run out of maximum driving hours, Jacobi said.
“We are finding rates going up with the trucking companies. With less bidding on jobs as they switch to domestic, non-border area routes to avoid this issue. We also have a trucking shortage, and that motivates these companies to choose these easier routes.”
Wearing your Chamber member hat, we want to know what you think about where we’re heading with ArriveCan and other border issues. What should be our priorities, what is missing, and what will be especially impactful to your business?
Please e-mail us your thoughts, which we’ll compile in an upcoming Let’s Talk summary accessible to members— you can remain anonymous if you’d like.