TIJUANA The Ready Lane program has been so popular to speed-up crossing at the Otay Mesa port of entry that it's being expanded to five lanes, depending on traffic.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection launched the program in May with up to three Ready Lanes available to enable faster crossing for those travelers with the appropriate documents. This week the agency announced that up to five lanes could be used during peak times.
The five lanes are in the far left side of the border crossing, and an electronic sign above each one will indicate whether it is open as a Ready Lane or a regular one.
Since the program began, motorists have cut their waiting time an average of 32 per cent when they used a Ready Lane, according to CBP. The goal with the additional lanes is for wait times to be reduced by an average of more than 40 percent.
On a typical day, motorists wait between 60 to 90 minutes to cross, while drivers in Ready Lanes wait between 20 to 40 minutes on the days when all available Ready Lanes are open.
For years, motorists have believed that the wait times are longer at the Otay Mesa port of entry than at San Ysidro, although there are fewer cars crossing at Otay Mesa.
The Ready Lane is beginning to change that perception and made Otay Mesa a better option to cross the border.
Ivonne Orozco, a 25-year-old Tijuana resident, crosses the border at least three times a week to work at a gas station in San Ysidro.
She's crossed the border at San Ysidro for more than five years, because "it was much faster," than at Otay Mesa. A few months ago, however, she changed her routine after discovering the Ready Lane.
"The benefit is evident, at least in my case," she said. "Otay has become the better option than San Ysidro."
She deemed it necessary for U.S. authorities to expand the number of Ready Lanes because traffic waiting to use the lanes would sometimes back up nearly five miles.
She thinks that's largely due to the many drivers who "cut in" to the Ready Lane near where Mexican Customs is located, which makes the wait longer for those who began "from the back."
"Sometimes they put police there so people won't cut, but it does not look like it helps much," she added.
For her part, Alejandra Mier y Terán, the director of the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce, applauded the U.S. expansion of the Ready Lane program, saying such efforts could spur the economic recovery of the area.
"Any measure to reduce wait time is always welcome," she said, noting that businesses closest to the border crossing would benefit the most from such initiatives.
At the moment, there are no immediate plans to implement this type of lane at the San Ysidro border crossing because it's being remodeled.
The next Ready Lane is scheduled to open in Calexico later this month, the CBP said.
Confusion about program
The only requirement be able to use the Ready Lane is for motorists to have one of four U.S. documents enabled with radio frequency technology, such as a newer U.S. passport, a visa laser issued after 2008, a permanent resident card (also referred to as "green card) and the SENTRI pass.
Using wireless technology, these documents can transmit identification information to customs agents before the motorist gets to the inspection booth, speeding up the review process.
To use the lane, everyone in the vehicle must display their document to an electronic reader
located a few steps from the booth, just like the SENTRI review process works.
CBP estimates that one in four people who cross through the Otay Mesa port of entry has one of the documents needed to use the Ready Lane. The problem is that not all of them know it.
On Tuesday, the Mejía family from Ensenada was going shopping in San Diego. They listened to the traffic report on the radio and opted to cross the border at Otay Mesa because it supposedly had fewer cars.
Despite the fact that about 60 cars were waiting at Otay Mesa compared to more than 100 in San Ysidro, the wait was longer than one hour at Otay.
What the family did not know is that they had the right documents to take advantage of the Ready Lane program, which last Tuesday was operating in five lanes.
"We thought that the lane was only for U.S. citizens," said María Elena Mejía, who was traveling with her husband, Ernesto, and their teen daughter Fernanda.
They all had the new visa laser, which can be used in the Ready Lane.
The signs for the Ready Lane say that it is for the exclusive use of travelers with "RFID documents," something apparently many people do not know what it means.
It stands for Radio Frequency Identification technology that's embedded in the documents.
"We saw the sign but it was not clear what papers they wanted so we came to a lane we know," Ernesto Mejía said.
Javier Morales felt the same way. The Tijuana resident, a carpenter, crosses the border regularly to buy construction materials.
He also has the laser visa but was not aware of the requirements to use the Ready Lane.
"Since the Ready Lane is separated from the normal lanes I thought it was SENTRI."
Laser visa issued after 2008
U.S. residency card ("green cards" issued starting in 2010
The Ready Lanes will be open from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and Sunday.
More information is at http://www.getyouhome.gov/html/rfid/RFID.html