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New technology for clearing trucks will make Peace Bridge more efficient

It’s been a long time coming – and it makes you wonder what other improvements are being ignored – but word that truck processing at the Peace Bridge is being speeded up counts as good news for all concerned.

The idea for the improvements surfaced last year after a pilot project that moved some truck inspections to the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge. What Americans discovered as they observed the processes used across the border was that the Canadians were more efficient.

As a result of that experiment, changes are coming to the U.S. side of the border. Among them are:

• An automated system to pay fees that are now collected by hand.

• An improved Internet connection that will allow Customs agents to process travelers more quickly.

• A new radiation detection system that has produced a 50 percent decrease in false alarms.

Together, these improvements are expected to reduce the waiting time for trucks by 6.5 percent, a significant amount, especially given the clouds of exhaust fumes produced by hundreds of idling trucks.

The improved fee collection will also allow for more productive use of manpower. Under the existing system, fees of $13.05 are collected manually from truckers who lack an annual user fee decal. At the Port of Buffalo in fiscal year 2015, about 1,700 work hours were spent collecting cash, according to a budget document. Those collections took about 80 to 90 seconds per vehicle.

These are all valuable improvements, and others are in the works, but they raise a nagging question: Why didn’t American administrators know long ago that their systems were underperforming? Do they not share information with their Canadian counterparts and, if not, weren’t they at least curious about the systems?

The discovery that the Canadian crossing outperforms the American one should also prompt other government officials to examine their own systems and technology. What best practices could be adopted to improve customer service or reduce public costs? It would be strange, indeed, if Customs and Border Protection were the only agency stuck in the past. What about our police and fire departments, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the FBI? Who else could benefit by examining how other agencies perform similar work?

The good news is that Buffalo is leading the way on implementing the new fee collection system, believed to be powered by a smart phone app. The system is to be implemented here as a pilot project this year, as well as at Detroit and El Paso, Texas. It is expected to be rolled out nationally next year.

It’s good to be ahead of the pack, but it would have been better, still, to have understood the deficiencies years ago.