The new Canpass program that enables some travelers to breeze across the Whirlpool Bridge to Canada with almost no delay for Customs inspections is off to a fast start, and Canadian authorities hope that a lot more people will sign up for it.
Revenue Canada, which operates Canada Customs, said the target of signing up 20,000 participants in the first six months of the Canpass program was reached in just three months. Revenue Canada continues to receive an average of 175 new applications every week.
Holders of the Canpass are permitted to enter Canada via the Whirlpool Bridge with virtually no stopping for Customs inspections. The passes are issued to individuals and vehicles that are cleared in advance as low risks for Customs and immigration violations.
Occasional spot checks are made of people who have such passes, to make sure that they continue to abide by the law.
In order to expand the program, Canada Customs and the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission will open a temporary application center Monday at the U.S. end of the bridge. Canada-bound travelers who are not yet participants in the Canpass program will be asked to complete a Canpass application when they arrive at the bridge.
Canada Customs personnel will be at the temporary application center to help people fill out their applications before they proceed to Canada. Travelers will be subject to the normal border inspections until their applications are approved and their Canpasses issued.
Canada Customs and the Bridge Commission are planning a marketing
campaign to increase traffic on the Whirlpool Bridge, which is underused. When the Canpass system is fully implemented, only those vehicles, drivers and passengers possessing passes will be permitted to use the Whirlpool Bridge; all other traffic will be rerouted to the Rainbow Bridge or to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge.
Officials said the Canpass program allows the Whirlpool Bridge to handle a higher volume of low-risk, frequent travelers. This service reduces the traffic pressure on the other international bridges across the Niagara River.
The Canpass program is free except for paying the regular bridge toll. In addition, the program is just for traffic from the United States to Canada; there is no similar program for bridge traffic from Canada to the U.S.
Revenue Canada said Canpass was "one of the most popular federal government programs in Niagara Falls. It has received an overwhelming response from the public."
Applicants for the Canpass are notified of their approval by a welcoming letter that invites them to visit the Canpass Enrollment Center at the Canadian end of the Whirlpool Bridge to pick up their photo pass, participant card, vehicle decal, and information package.
The Enrollment Center will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays through Friday. On and after Sept. 8, participant packages will be available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays at the Canpass Processing Center, 4551 Zimmerman Ave., Niagara Falls, Ont.
Packages for approved participants will not be available at the temporary application center at the U.S. end of the bridge.
Applications for the passes are available at tollbooths on the Whirlpool, Rainbow and Lewiston-Queenston bridges; at Canada Customs offices in Niagara Falls and Fort Erie, Ont.; at Niagara Falls Bridge Commission offices; and at the Revenue Canada Tax Services Office in St. Catharines, Ont. But the passes are good only on the Whirlpool Bridge, not on the other international bridges along the Niagara Frontier.