Border study shows NEXUS card saves time, fuel

Travelers use the NEXUS lane heading north to Canada at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. A new study says a NEXUS pass pays for itself in about two round trips to Canada.
Travelers use the NEXUS lane heading north to Canada at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. A new study says a NEXUS pass pays for itself in about two round trips to Canada. The Bellingham Herald

For those who have wondered whether it is worth getting a NEXUS card before crossing the border, the answer is probably yes, according to a new study.

The Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University found that it would take about two round trips to Canada within five years to recoup the cost of applying for the trusted traveler program called NEXUS.

The study monetized the time waiting in line and included gas and carbon emissions as costs from an idling engine. The researchers then compared the time spent in the non-NEXUS lines and NEXUS lines.

The study estimates those who use the NEXUS lane saved about $28.10 in monetized time in just one round trip, about one-tenth of a gallon of gas and avoided putting 2.12 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air.

The application fee for NEXUS is $50, and the card is valid for five years. It can be used on both sides of the border to speed up crossings.

The time difference between those who hold NEXUS cards and those who don’t is significant. The authors of the study, Christopher Dingman of the Federal Highway Administration and Daniel Edgel of the border institute, crunched the wait-time data from November 2012 through October 2014, focusing on the Peace Arch border crossing. During an entire week, the average delay was 1.3 minutes for those who used the NEXUS lanes and 16.4 minutes for those who used the other lanes. On weekends, the average delay increased to 1.9 minutes for those in NEXUS lanes and 21.7 minutes for those in the standard lanes.

The study results didn’t come as a surprise to Laurie Trautman, associate director at the Border Policy Research Institute. What has surprised her is that more Washington residents aren’t yet participating in the program. The number of active members in Washington state as of June 2014 was 59,460, while the number of active members in British Columbia was 337,991, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“I think the benefits are fairly obvious to NEXUS members who cross the border frequently — not only do we get to bypass all those waiting in the standard lane, but we can be fairly certain that we won’t have some unexpected delay interrupt a trip,” Trautman said.

One other benefit is for air travel. NEXUS members are automatically enrolled in the TSA’s pre-check program. In the U.S. that pre-check program would cost $85 for a five-year membership for those without the NEXUS membership.

Getting into the program does have its challenges for residents. Applicants are subjected to a thorough background check and can be denied for many different violations, Trautman said, including a marijuana or driving under the influence conviction. Because an in-person interview is required, it can be inconvenient for people who live far away from an enrollment center. Also, every passenger in a vehicle needs to have a NEXUS card to go through the NEXUS lane.

According to the report, recent surveys indicate 15 percent of non-NEXUS travelers chose not to enroll because the cost was too high or the application too rigorous. Another 25 percent had no particular reason or were unfamiliar with the program.

Given the continued weakness of the Canadian dollar, Trautman expects more Americans to be visiting Canada, so the new enrollment center in Birch Bay Square may help increase enrollment in NEXUS. Overall the NEXUS program has gained in popularity in recent years, nearly doubling between January 2012 and June 2015 to more than 1.2 million members.

For details on getting a NEXUS card, visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s trusted traveler website. To see the report, visit the Border Policy Research Institute’s website.

Reach Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BhamHeraldBiz and on Facebook at BellinghamHeraldBusiness.