Long waits are part and parcel with crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. But for the first time, a government agency has created a model that measures an average wait time of 45 minutes against lost dollars and cents.
And, according to a study released June 10 by the San Diego Association of Governments, the region’s planning agency, the financials for the 60 million yearly cross-border trips are quite staggering.
According to Sandag, the long wait times results in more than eight million lost border trips per year, equating to $1.28 billion in lost revenues for San Diego County.
With the border often backed up with cars heading in and out of San Diego, wait times are increasingly causing motorists to cancel their trip, which in turn has an effect on the economies of both San Diego and Tijuana.
Retailers are most affected, as those who often shop at the many shopping centers near the border are going elsewhere to avoid the long lines.
The long wait times are a combination of increased security measures, lingering effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the simple fact there is an overwhelming amount of vehicles heading across the border.
Sandag estimated more than half of the cross-border trips are for shopping or recreation.
The cross-border trips generate significant revenues for the retail, hotel, lodging and recreational sectors in San Diego, yet the increasing congestion and security delays may inhibit those crossing the border, and result in output and employment losses for the sectors, according to the Sandag study.
The model, the first of the its kind, will help policymakers understand the effects that wait times have on the economies of both San Diego and Tijuana, said Elisa Arias, a senior transportation planner with Sandag.
“We want to assess the economic impacts and use those findings to create some private-public partnership for transportation projects in the border region,” Arias said.
Transportation projects, such as the addition of two more SENTRI lanes , a pre-screened lane allowing commuters to bypass security , at the San Ysidro Port of Entry could ease some of the wait times.
Through the economic model, Sandag has found that more than three million potential working hours are spent in waits at the border, which results in $42 million in lost wages annually for San Diego County.
For Baja California, the impact is just as big, as more than two million trips into Mexico are lost, resulting in $120 million in potential revenue lost because of long wait times, according to Sandag.
By 2015, when wait times are expected to reach 76 minutes at both sides of the border, the economic impact will more than double, resulting in a $3 billion annual loss in revenue and more than 74,000 lost jobs.
For shopping centers like the Shops at Las Americas, which is within walking distance from the San Ysidro Port of Entry, lost trips means less shoppers to visit the center’s 100 designer name-brand retailers.
Israel Adato, the president of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, said that long wait times hurt businesses on both sides of the border.
“People don’t want to cross the border if they have to wait two or three hours,” Adato said. “There are about 50,000 people are crossing the border every day, spending $144 to $215 per person and almost 53 percent are crossing on a daily basis for shopping and errands.
“The border is a vital part of our economy.”
Adato said the border must be secure, but policymakers need to understand that most people crossing the border are doing so for shopping.
“They are not terrorists, but shoppers,” he said. “They are our neighbors.”