By Jeff Lee
Bus, train and cruise ship travel between Canada and the U.S. is set to speed up now that a pre-clearance bill has been adopted by the U.S. Senate, matched by impending Canadian legislation.
One of the first beneficiaries of the new law will be Vancouver-based tourist train operator Rocky Mountaineer, which was part of a pilot project approved earlier this year.
Once matching Canadian legislation is approved next year the company expects passengers travelling to the U.S. will be pre-cleared at Rocky Mountaineer’s facilities, meaning they no longer have to stop at the border. Another pilot project is at Montreal’s main train station.
The new bill, called the Promoting Travel, Commerce and National Security Act, is expected to be signed by Barack Obama in one of his last acts as U.S. president. It builds on an established pre-clearance program now in place at eight Canadian airports, including Vancouver.
In signing the bill into law, the Obama government would pre-empt concerns that the new Donald Trump presidency would tighten border access. Companion Canadian legislation, Bill C-23, received second reading in Parliament in June and is set to receive final reading.
In 2015 over 12 million passengers travelling to the U.S. were cleared at U.S. Customs facilities inside Canadian airports. The new bill also adds two more airports, Toronto’s Billy Bishop and Quebec City’s Jean Lesage.
Proponents of the program have long sought to expand the system to include rail and bus travel in hopes of reducing waits at border stations without compromising security.
The plan is to establish U.S. customs offices on the Canadian side of the border allowing travellers, in theory, to get screened more quickly, zip through the actual border, and ease logjams that slow travel and commerce.
“This is good news for both Canadians and international travellers and will have a positive impact on our business. We have been working with government on this project since its inception and are pleased to see continued momentum,” said Rocky Mountaineer president Steve Sammut.
“Once Canadian legislation has passed, we will continue developing a pre-clearance program for our guests that will ensure an even more seamless journey between our two great countries.”
The passage of the bill is also being hailed by the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, a public/private group made up of Canadian western provinces and Pacific Northwest states, who say pre-clearance will strengthen the region’s $55-billion travel and tourism sector.
PNWER said the program will also benefit travellers using the Amtrak Cascades, Victoria Clipper, Black Ball and Washington State Ferries, as well as cruise lines operating out of Vancouver and Seattle.
“Pre-clearance has been an important issue here in the Northwest, especially because we have the most pre-inspection sites that can be upgraded to pre-clearance, and we’re excited to see it passed,” PNWER Executive Director Matt Morrison said in a statement. “The U.S. and Canada share one of the best trade relationships in the world, but improving the flow of goods and travellers across the border will greatly benefit region’s interconnected travel and tourism economy.”
Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, also saluted the bill in a tweet Saturday. ”Preclearance is a win-win for enhanced security and prosperity on both sides of the border,” he said.