San Ysidro Crossing Crawl

— There’s some good news at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the busiest land port in the Western Hemisphere: After years of declining numbers, more people are crossing between Tijuana and San Diego. But there’s bad news too: Many drivers report that their wait times have been climbing back up since the opening of new inspection booths nearly a year ago led to dramatic drops.

With reports that more Mexicans are crossing to shop in San Diego, and greater numbers of U.S. tourists have been vacationing in Baja California, the spike in vehicle crossings should come as no surprise. Still, the increased traffic has drawn new complaints about rising wait times.

“If it’s morning, I’ll bet you it takes two hours,” said Carolina Rodriguez, a 36-year-old mother of four who crosses several mornings a week from her house in Tijuana to her job cleaning airplanes at Lindbergh Field.

Pete Flores, who heads U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s San Diego field office, said passenger traffic is up at all ports of entry in his jurisdiction, with San Ysidro showing the biggest increases. Vehicle traffic at the port is up 26 percent in the first nine months of the fiscal year — October through June — compared with the same period last year, Flores said.

The increased numbers have been been especially marked in the general traffic lanes for drivers who are neither in the pre-cleared Sentri program nor qualified to cross in the Ready Lane for those with RFID-enabled cards such as the U.S. passport card.

A case in point: CBP counted 420,428 vehicles crossing through the port’s general lanes on weekdays in April, up from 245,331 in April 2014, a 71 percent increase.

General traffic “takes us longer to process,” Flores said. The large increases have prompted the shifting of manpower, and as a result, “we have had some additional wait times in Sentri and Ready over the past several months because of the increase in trying to scale down the wait times for the general traffic lanes.”

CBP’s aim is to get Sentri users through in fewer than 15 minutes, Flores said. The agency’s goal for Ready Lane users is for wait times to be half those in the general lanes. Border wait times have long been an issue.

A study by the San Diego Association of Governments found that inadequate infrastructure on the San Diego-Baja California border cost the U.S. and Mexican economies $7.2 billion in output and 62,000 jobs in 2007.

photo

The expansion of the San Ysidro Port of Entry that is currently under way — a $741 million project — has raised expectations for reduced wait times, both for vehicles and pedestrians.

Last September, the wait times for all vehicle categories plummeted with the completion of a phase that expanded northbound inspection capacity to 25 lanes, most of them double-stacked for a total of 46 booths. CBP figures showing month-to-month comparisons from April to July show wait times have fallen in all vehicle categories since 2014.

But while vehicle crossings are easy to count, measuring wait times is more complicated.

“It’s hard to judge how much wait times have improved because no border crossing between California and Mexico has any kind of technology in place to measure northbound delays,” said Kenn Morris, president of Crossborder Group, which has conducted surveys of border crossers.

The CBP last year launched a smartphone app providing estimated wait times, but users complain it is not a reliable indicator.“The app unfortunately has not reflected accurate wait times,” said Paola Avila, vice president of international business affairs for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We need to have some reliable information mechanism to tell people when we can cross.”

The uncertainty is a persistent problem, said Oscar Escobedo, Baja California’s tourism secretary. “If you know it’s always going to be an hour, then you can administer your time,” he said.

On Thursday morning, Carolina Rodriguez, a U.S. citizen who lives in Tijuana to save costs, got into the Ready Lane line at 5:33 a.m. and crossed the border at 7:27 a.m. She is one of more than 30,000 members of “Cómo está la linea Tijuana” (How’s the Tijuana line) a Facebook group whose members regularly post their progress.

Another member, Joel Daza, a Tijuana resident who works part time as a bookkeeper at Otay Mesa, on that same morning reported a surprisingly rapid crossing in the general lanes — a half-hour.

“Today has been the best time ever,” Daza said. “Usually, it takes me from 50 minutes to an hour and a half.”

Frequent crossers such as Rodriguez and Daza say they often see the second booth go unmanned, even at times of heavy morning traffic.

“We in good faith made this investment in the port of entry, so why aren’t all the tools being utilized?” asked Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, whose members depend heavily on clients from Mexico. “We can stand recession, devaluation, but when wait times go up, we get killed.”

The CBP’s Flores said that having the second booth operating increases efficiency only by 30 to 40 percent.

“We prefer to operate in the single-stacked capacity,” Flores said. “In managing our wait times, there are a number of options we implement to ensure security and facilitation, he said. “The opening of stacked booths is one of those options given the resources available at the time.”

Advertisements

2 Comments

  1. Robert Krewer
    Posted March 30, 2016 at 19:33 | Permalink | Reply

    BULLSHIT….THE DOUBLE STACKED BOOTHS HAVE NEVER BEEN OPENED AT ANY TIME SINCE THE CONSTRUCTION WAS COMPLETED. THEY WERE OPENED ONLY WHEN THE MEDIA WAS PRESENT AT COMPLETION. MEDIA LEFT AND THEY HAVE NEVER BEEN REOPENED. THE COST OF CONSTRUCTING OF DOUBLE STACKED BOOTHS AND ALL THE ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT SETS IDLE FOR 2 YEARS. EQUIPMENT AND COMPUTERS ARE BECOMING OBSOLETE. NOTHING BUT A BIG SHAM AND WASTE OF MONEY. IF THEY WERE OPERATING DOUBLE THEN THE 30 TO 40 PERCENT REDUCTION IN WAIT TIME WOULD BE A TOLERABLE TIME TO WAIT.

    • bajadock
      Posted March 30, 2016 at 19:48 | Permalink | Reply

      Wow, RK, a strongly worded letter in the CBP file, congrats. I am no fan of gov’t, but, I also have realistic/low expectations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: