Trusted-traveler program is helping cross-border travelers save time and money

The NEXUS trusted-traveler initiative is helping people travel more seamlessly between the United States and Canada, but policy experts say program enrollment has been hampered by an inconvenient, unclear application process. Once accepted into the program, NEXUS members use designated lanes at land borders (and machines at airports) that speed their entry process. These travelers have a NEXUS card that can be scanned to retrieve all of the relevant personal data needed by a border inspector.

NEXUS lanes are open at 19 land-border ports of entry in Canada and 24 in the United States, including four crossings in Michigan (Sault Ste. Marie, Port Huron, and the Detroit tunnel and Ambassador Bridge), one in Minnesota (International Falls) and one in North Dakota (Pembina). NEXUS membership costs $50 for five years, and its benefits extend well beyond the people who use it, says Laurie Trautman, associate director at the Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute.

“Security experts compare identifying terrorists to looking for a needle in a haystack, and the NEXUS program removes safe people from the haystack and gives border officials more time to find the bad actors,” she says.
For states and provinces, she adds, improving the movement of people across the border fosters greater economic activity. In some communities where processing lanes go through smaller cities, NEXUS reduces dangerous traffic in residential areas.
The institute published a policy brief this summer examining the benefits of NEXUS at one land border, the Peace Arch-Douglas crossing on the Washington-British Columbia border. Here are some of its findings:
  • For NEXUS members, the average border delay is 1.3 minutes on weekdays and 1.9 minutes on weekends; that compares to 16.4 minutes (weekdays) and 21.7 minutes (weekends) for nonmembers.
  • The program benefits nonmembers as well because some travelers can be diverted to NEXUS lanes.
    Cost savings from having a NEXUS card average $28 per trip.
  • The program reduces gasoline usage and cuts carbon dioxide emissions.
As of early 2015, some 1.1 million travelers were enrolled in NEXUS. That marks a 20 percent increase over the past year, but Trautman says enrollment could be even higher with a more user-friendly sign-up process. For example, potential applicants must take part in an in-person interview, which can require people to travel long distances (due to the small number of enrollment centers away from the border) and can take several months to schedule. One way to improve this process, Trautman says, would be to set up mobile processing centers.
There also is no real transparency in cases where an application is denied, she says. A criminal conviction may spark a denial, and a drunken-driving conviction in the U.S. — even if it is more than 20 years old — can lead to a denial by the Canadian government. Sometimes it is not possible to find out the reason for a denial.
Trautman also says the U.S. and Canada can do a better job of outreach (NEXUS isn’t just for frequent business travelers) and quelling concerns about privacy (border officials have access to the same information on all travelers, whether they have a NEXUS card or not).

Stateline Midwest: October 20153.23 MB