Survey examines border crossers

Published on Thu, Dec 6, 2007 by eg Olson

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Survey examines border crossers

By Meg Olson

Who crosses the border and why, or why not?

Those were the fundamental questions researchers with the Western Washington Border Policy Research Institute and Whatcom County Council of Governments (COG) set out to answer in this summer’s survey of passenger vehicles at Whatcom County ports of entry.

“This provides a basis for understanding the markets for operational programs like NEXUS and gives us a basis for forecasting future travel demand,” said Hugh Conroy with COG.

The survey data is not intended to predict what will happen at the border, Conroy said, but to provide an evolving snapshot of what is happening. “A lot of things that determine travel demand don’t really lend themselves that well to data analysis – tax policy, security policies, even exchange rates,” he said. “We don’t have a way to predict the exchange rates, it doesn’t move like that.”

Following up on a similar survey in 2000, in July, 2007 11,000 travelers in passenger vehicles were interviewed as they waited in line to cross the border. The second half of the survey will be in February 2008. “It’s the off-peak period but it’s also the period during which the Olympics will occur in 2010,” Conroy said.

Since over seven million cars crossed the border into Whatcom County in 1992, 85 percent of them Canadian, traffic counts have tumbled, hitting just over three million in 2002, only half of those coming from Canada. Since then the Canadian share of traffic, and traffic volumes, have been on a slow rise, following the Canadian dollar up as they did down in the previous decade.

“One of the things we were curious about, looking at the last 10 or 15 years, the general decrease, what types of trips have disappeared or has it been even?” Conroy said. The survey found that from 2000 to 2007, reasons for crossing the border have stayed mostly the same.

Shopping, vacation and recreation are the predominant reasons for the trip, given by 75 percent or more of those asked. Recreation was the reason given by 21 percent of travelers in 2007, as opposed to 46 percent in 2000, but the 2007 survey also included new categories such as visits to family, church, or trips to the airport.

Business travel and commuting remained essentially the same over the seven-year period, representing 9 percent of travelers in both survey years.

Most people crossing the border in both 2000 and 2007 were traveling between the Lower Mainland and Whatcom County, and in both years 56 percent of border-crossers lived in the lower mainland. Whatcom County and Puget Sound area residents made up another 25 percent of border-crossers.

The 2007 survey also included interviews with 3,000 travelers in the NEXUS lane. NEXUS users distinguished themselves from the regular border-crossers by a greater emphasis on living and traveling locally.

Only 5 percent of NEXUS users lived outside Whatcom County and the lower mainland. Travelers going to or coming from a location in the Puget Sound area made up 35 percent of regular lane respondents, but only 5 percent of NEXUS users, and trips to and from parts of B.C. outside the lower mainland went from 10 percent in regular lanes to under one percent in NEXUS. Most trips for NEXUS users were made between the lower mainland and Whatcom County. Point Roberts residents made up 1 percent of travelers in the regular lanes, but 3 percent of NEXUS traffic.

Most travelers in the regular lanes who crossed the border more than six times a year cited ignorance, procrastination and indifference more often than problems with the NEXUS program for not signing up.
Conroy said 20 percent of those who said they didn’t know about the program but crossed frequently, came from Surrey, B.C.

Conroy said the survey information would be used by agencies and jurisdictions to plan for border and transportation infrastructure.