web analytics
Your Independent Alternative!

Traffic Way Down at Tighter Borders

The number of people crossing the northern and southern land borders into the USA has dropped sharply since a passport requirement began June 1.

Businesses in tourism-dependent border communities blame the policy for making a bad year worse.

At Martin's Fantasy Island, an amusement park in Grand Island, N.Y., about 10 minutes from the Canadian border, "our Canadian business is way off," spokesman Mike McGuire says. Nearly one-third fewer Canadian families of four have come for discounted "Canadian Wednesdays" compared with last year, he says. He blames the recession, a soggy summer and the passport rule.

The park is in the Buffalo border crossing region, which saw a 13% decline in privately owned vehicles coming into the USA in June and July compared with the same period last year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Along both borders, traffic was down 12.5%.

The change is part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, an effort to make borders more secure after 9/11. The rules affect U.S. citizens entering by land or sea, who once could get across by simply declaring themselves citizens. The change also affects citizens of Canada and Bermuda, who previously did not have to show passports.

Now, they must have passports or one of a handful of other documents such as enhanced driver's licenses, which have more security features and are available in some Canadian provinces and Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington.

The passport rule went into effect at airports in 2007. The rules for Mexicans have not changed; they have long needed special border crossing cards or passports plus visas.

CBP officials say the change has made border crossings safer and more efficient and isn't to blame for declining numbers. Fewer people have been coming to the USA via land borders since 9/11, says Colleen Manaher, initiative director.

Compliance has been high; 95% of affected travelers arrive at the borders with proper documents, she says. "You have to look at this in totality," she says. "There is the recession, exchange rates, gas prices. There's border violence, there's weather."

Many customers of Lakefront Lines, a charter and tour bus company in Cleveland, don't want to invest in new IDs, tour director Karen Williams says. The company has halved the number of trips it makes each week to a casino in Windsor, Ontario, and upped trips to U.S. casinos. "Customers tell me, 'I can spend my money at another casino rather than on a passport,' " she says.

At the New York amusement park, "we used to cater a few picnics for Canadian businesses. A couple have told us they can't do it because they can't force their workers to get passports," McGuire says. "Where it really hurts is the impulse buy. Mom and Dad are sitting at home on a Saturday afternoon and say, 'Hey, let's go to Fantasy Island. Wait, we can't because we don't have . . . passports.' "

Comments are closed.