Office of Operations Freight Management and Operations

Measuring Border Delay and Crossing Times at the US–Mexico Border
Final Report
Automated Crossing and Wait Time Measurement



FHWA would like to thank the project’s stakeholders, without whose support and cooperation this pilot technology implementation would not have been possible. There were many stakeholders representing associations and governmental organizations in the cities of El Paso, Pharr and Ciudad Juárez, the States of Texas and Chihuahua, and United States (US) and Mexican regional and national entities. In particular we would like to recognize the personnel of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), both its Headquarters, Field Operations and field offices in El Paso and Laredo as well as CBP personnel at the Bridge of the Americas and Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge; Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS); Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT); City of El Paso, Texas; El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO); Aduana (Mexican Customs); Instituto Municipal de Investigacion y Planeacion (IMIP, the Juárez MPO); Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua; the Maquila Association; City of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez bridge operations; and participating Mexican motor carriers. Personnel from each of these organizations and other stakeholders freely provided their time, perspectives, and other assistance in support of this implementation.

Project Tasks and Accomplishments

This report portrays the process followed and the results obtained in implementing a radio frequency identification (RFID)-based system to automatically measure commercial vehicle travel times in real-world operation on the US–Mexico border. It documents attainment of a key milestone in Part II of a two-part project, in which total results from nearly 33 months of real-world system operation are captured. It is important to note that this Final Report is not meant to serve as a comprehensive document outlining each task conducted as part of this project, though pertinent extracts of prior project deliverables are included. Rather, it is meant to highlight the most important steps in implementing an automated border wait and crossing time measurement system as experienced with the implementation of such systems at Bridge of the Americas (BOTA) and Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge implementation (Pharr-Reynosa) in El Paso, Texas/Ciudad Juárez and Pharr, Texas respectively.

In Part 1 of this project (reported separately), an in-depth analysis was conducted to determine the most appropriate technologies that could be applied in a system for automatically measuring travel time of commercial vehicles that transit across land border crossings on the US–Mexico border. Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) using RFID was one of two technologies selected as most appropriate to the application, along with Global Positioning System (GPS). Passive RFID technology requires a reader and transponders (“tags”) and was already being used at some southern border crossings for other purposes. (NOTE: the terms “transponder” and “tag” are used interchangeably in this report.)

In Part II, the results of the Part I technology trade-off analysis were revisited and the recommended technologies verified to be still applicable. Land border crossings in the vicinity of El Paso–Ciudad Juárez were considered for the RFID system implementation. RFID was an attractive technology in the El Paso–Ciudad Juárez region due to the relatively high percentage of commercial vehicles that already had RFID transponders. For example, passive RFID tags were widely used by trucks enrolled in CBP’s Free and Secure Trade, or “FAST” Program. Also, the Texas DPS installed RFID reader stations to provide identifying information that can be used to retrieve information needed to facilitate the passage of commercial vehicles through its Border Safety Inspection Facility (BSIF). (NOTE: “Border Safety Inspection Facility” is the term the Texas DPS uses for its State commercial vehicle safety inspection. Neither the term for the facility nor the identity of the State organization that operates it are universal, but the acronym BISF is used throughout this document for convenience.

Following an extensive stakeholder involvement in 2009 an RFID based system was implemented at BOTA that had capabilities to collect crossing times of US-bound trucks. Subsequently, a third reader at the CPB’s primary inspection facility in 2011 to measure wait times of trucks. Around the same time, RFID readers were installed at CBP’s primary inspection facility at Pharr-Reynosa to measure wait times of trucks. TxDOT had earlier implemented a similar system at Pharr-Reynosa with capabilities to measure crossing time only.

In addition to field implementation, the project also included developed of a Prototype Web Tool to disseminate and archive wait and crossing time data. Using the Web tool, stakeholders can view the most recent wait and crossing times at both POEs, retrieve historical data for planning, and decision-making purposes.

General Concept of the System

The general concept of the RFID technology based wait time and crossing time measurement system is that during its trip across the border at a POE, a US-bound truck passes under RFID tag reader antennae. These antennae are mounted above its lane in the roadway. Each tag reader detects the truck’s tag identification (ID) number and time-stamps and records the location of the detection. The first RFID reader station is located on the Mexican side of the POE at a site that is at the “upstream” end of the queue of US-bound trucks that backs up from the border at the POE. The length of the queue at any given time will vary depending on factors such as truck volume, number of customs primary inspection booths manned and open, time of day, and incidents or accidents at the POE. The first RFID reader station is at a static location that must be at or slightly upstream from the end of the historical queue that will develop on the majority of days. The second RFID reader station is located at CBP’s primary inspection booth on the US side. The third RFID reader station is located at the exit of the State’s inspection facility. Travel times between first and second readers are identified as wait times of trucks. Similarly, travel times between first and third reader are identified as crossing times of trucks.

Data from the RFID reader stations are sent to a central remote server via wireless modem. In the server, data from reader stations are compared, looking for the match of the truck’s ID as recorded at the two reader stations. If a match is found, that determines the wait or crossing time for that truck. The data – whether raw or processed – are stored and archived in a centralized repository implemented in a database server. The system calculates the most recent average wait and crossing time, which can be accessed using publicly available. Real Simple Syndication (RSS) and a Web site, described later in the report. These average wait and crossing times are sufficiently current that they can be used for making informing decisions. Examples of these decisions are CBP staff deciding whether to open one or more additional inspection booths or trucking carriers that are dispatching trucks deciding which POE to route their trucks through.

Implementation at BOTA and Pharr-Reynosa

An initial full meeting of stakeholders resulted in their approval of the BOTA POE in El Paso as the planned site and an RFID tag reader system using wireless data communication as the planned technology to be implemented. Prior to proceeding with implementation, a second full stakeholder meeting was conducted to present the key system requirements, explain the technology implementation intended to meet those requirements, and present plans for implementation at selected locations at the BOTA POE.

Subsequently, in July 2009 installation was completed for two RFID reader stations at the BOTA port of entry to measure crossing times of US-bound trucks. Furthermore, FHWA initiated discussions with CBP about the feasibility of RFID installations at its primary inspection facilities at international land border crossings on the US–Mexico Border. Such an installation enables the same system to also measure wait time of US-bound commercial vehicles. That discussion resulted in CBP approval of RFID installations at the Primary Inspection facility locations at two Texas POEs: BOTA and Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge. A compatibility test was conducted in August 2010 at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge that successfully demonstrated the planned RFID configuration at CBP Primary Inspection booths do not interfere electronically with CBP systems in the area. In January 2011, CBP recommended approval of – and the U.S. General Services Administration approved – the permit for RFID installation at the CBP facility at Bridge of the Americas. In October of the same year, installation of a third reader at the CPB’s primary inspection facility was completed.

Around the same time, RFID readers were installed at CBP’s primary inspection facility at Pharr-Reynosa. TxDOT had earlier implemented a similar system at Pharr-Reynosa with capabilities to measure crossing time only

The research team also initiated tasks to develop a Prototype Web Tool in February 2011. The objective of the prototype web tool was to provide an effective and efficient web-based platform for dissemination of real-time traveler information and archived border-crossing related data to stakeholders on the US-Mexico border. Real-time traveler information includes current border wait and crossing times. Archived data includes historic wait times and crossing times. Presentation of historic data includes trends shown in different temporal and spatial granularities, summarized and aggregated data, and simple summary statistics.

Subsequently, the research team also developed step-by-step guidelines for installing RFID-based systems at land POEs to measure crossing and wait times of trucks. These guidelines are not POE specific and hence can be used to deploy similar systems at other border crossings. Guidelines described in this document are based on experiences gathered while deploying RFID-based systems to measure crossing times and wait times at various land border crossings in Texas on the US–Mexico border.

A second document was developed to provide guidance to stakeholders regarding analysis that can be performed with the data collected by the RFID-based border crossing time and wait time measurement system. The guidance assists agencies implementing the system to develop meaningful output from the data analysis, in the form of charts/graphs/data subsets, which then can be used by stakeholders for planning and decision-making. The guidance also describes different techniques for relaying real-time crossing and wait time data to stakeholders.

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