How would you like to take a trip across the U.S. border in New York state to find a three-hour wait on your return home? It’s happening, according to politicians and their constituents.
“The big hold up is on the Canadian side, there’s not enough staff to man the booths,” said Sean Ryan, a New York State Assembly member representing Buffalo.
A frustrated Ryan told reporters this week the wait time at the Peace Bridge and other border crossings into Canada can be as long as three hours.
“If it’s a shortage of guards, hire them; if it’s a shortage of people (on shift) bring them in — there’s a solution to every problem,” said Jim Diodati, mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont.
Diodati says the low Canadian dollar and relatively inexpensive fuel prices are attracting an increased number of U.S. visitors who want to spend time in his city.
“Every minute they’re waiting on the bridge, they’re not spending money in Canada,” said Diodati, who says the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) should be able to react to surges in visitors with more staff.
Late Friday, the CBSA contacted Global News by email, denying any multi-hour wait times at the crossings.
“There were no delays reported at three hours,” wrote media spokesperson Pamela Mintern. However, she went on to provide details of many substantial extended delays at Niagara bridges.
“Since June 29, the border wait times in the travellers stream exceeded one hour at Niagara border crossings: Peace Bridge six times ; Queenston-Lewiston Bridge eight times; Rainbow Bridge 12 times,” read the statement.
In an previous statement, the CBSA said that between March 28 and July 10 “the Peace Bridge travellers stream met the established service standards 86.1% of the time. The Queenston Bridge 91.6% of the time and the Rainbow Bridge 92.3% of the time.”
Those service standards say that travellers should wait no more than 10 minutes to reach a border services agent Monday to Thursday, and no more than 20 minutes between Friday and Sunday.
Border services officers are entitled to take vacations and to receive training as part of provisions in their collective bargaining agreement. As a result, officials familiar with border delays say there aren’t enough officers to staff the Niagara-area bridges adequately during peak periods.
“Having an 80 per cent to 90 per cent success rate is not a success,” said Diodati.
Rob Nicholson, Conservative member of parliament for Niagara Falls, told Global News the federal government needs to do more.
“It is extremely important that the government prioritize and facilitate the trade and travel that occurs along the 49th parallel. Long delays at border crossings are not acceptable,” Nicholson said.
“I hope the Liberal government arranges for the necessary resources that will allow the men and women of the CBSA to do their jobs efficiently.”