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By Jack E. George and Baja Bound Staff
Thanks to the ingenuity of a group of students attending the University of California, San Diego, they have created a mobile app, "Best Time to Cross the Border." The university students have built the app to determine traffic patterns along the United States border for travelers entering the U.S. from Mexico (or Canada). The program allows you to have some control over your wait time at the border by deciding the best time of day to cross. The app, which is for Android or iPhone, provides drivers with real time border wait information. It is also integrated with Google maps.
Features of the mobile app:
If you have ever looked up the wait times reported by Customs and Border Protection on their "Border Wait Times" page, you may have noticed how they are not always accurate. Although this website is a good starting point, what makes this app more accurate from other border wait apps is its user reported information and historical information. First, the iReport feature, allows you, the user, to send your personal 'wait time' to the app which will then help other users with closer to real time information. The app will ask you to report your time when you are close to the border. (If you are not close to the border, you will not be able to report your wait time.)
Second, it offers the best time to cross the border using historical graphs. The graphs provide hourly crossing times for each day of the week as well as the weekend. For example, if you have never crossed the border on a Saturday evening, you can find out historically which hour has the shortest wait to plan accordingly. The app's '7 day graph' shows the average wait time for each day of the week for the past 3 months. The app's 'single day graph' allows the maximum, minimum and average wait times for each day using data from the past 3 months.
The program can save a person time in the stop-and-go border traffic. One Tijuana resident, can attest to the long wait times since he crosses the border five days a week to report to his job in San Diego. He has reached the point of fairly easily determining his wait time, by the point where he first meets up with the border traffic. His daily crossing time fluctuates from a low of an hour-and-a-half to a high of three hours. The Baja Bound staff have tried it and commented that the new app has provided accurate information. If it is incorrect, it has usually been that there is a better wait than the app stated. Other commuters are rating the system with five stars using such terms as "Awesome," "Super app," "A gem of an app...eliminates the guess work!" and, "Fantastic way to save time."
Border crossing time is an important consideration for various reasons. For example, one study conducted by the San Diego Association of Governments along with Caltrans, determined that excessive waiting times at the border causes $2.5 billion in losses, annually, to the San Diego regional economy. In addition, the report determined that the commercial crossings into San Diego County cost the county $455 million in annual revenue loss due to the resulting reduced freight activity.
Of course, for those who qualify, the SENTRI pass will still be the fastest way of crossing the border. If you just cross the border once-in-awhile you can always visit a hotel or other establishment where you can secure the fast pass in order to use the FastLane. This is a 'one time only,' pass to use in a special lane designated for tourists. If you are one of the estimated 340,000 people traveling across the San Ysidro border each day, you can save yourself some travel time, by using the new app - not to mention saving money on gasoline.
Learn more about the app on the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) website.