Canada has decided to impose a border-inspection fee on the second daily Amtrak train to Vancouver, B.C., forcing the cancellation of the service beginning in November, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Washington state and U.S. officials are urging the Canada Border Services Agency to change its mind and waive the inspection fees, which equal about $550,000 a year. The DOT, which subsidizes Amtrak Cascades service, says it doesn't have the money to pay the fee for the second daily train.
CBSA told the DOT late on Friday, Sept. 17, it was imposing the fee, said Andrew Wood, deputy director of the state rail and marine office at the DOT. By mutual agreement, the second train will be allowed to operate through October without a fee.
"We've got about a month in which to try to change hearts and minds, I guess," Wood said.
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CBSA imposed the fee out of fiscal concerns. After looking at the ridership on the second train service over the past year, it decided the fee needed to be imposed to pay for border-inspection staffing. A spokeswoman at CBSA couldn't be reached late Monday afternoon for comment.
The second train started on Aug. 19, 2009, and has operated as a pilot project. The DOT said the train has had steadily increasing ridership. Through Aug. 18, 2010, an average of 73 people per day rode the second train to Vancouver, Wood said. But over the past three months, it's averaged about 100 people, and the first train has seen a boost to ridership as well.
"It has been beneficial to economies on both sides of the border," Wood said. "The B.C. government is in lock step with us, really. They want to see this service continue."
In a DOT press release, the decision was criticized by Paula Hammond, state DOT secretary; U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.; U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett; state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island; and state Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island. Haugen and Clibborn are chairwomen of the Senate and House transportation committees.
"We proved that the ridership demand was there, during the Olympics and after," Hammond stated in the release. "We have no money to cover this added cost and we will not ask Washington travelers to pay more for their tickets, when customers traveling into Washington don't have to pay a U.S. customs fee."
Wood said talks haven't yet been scheduled with officials in Ottawa.