Truck manifest achieves milestone
The electronic truck manifest took a big step forward last Friday when ABF Freight System became the first carrier to electronically file its cargo data to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and have the truck cleared through the border checkpoint in Blaine, Wash., using the submitted data, according to trucking industry officials close to the situation.
Blaine is the first border checkpoint to test the ability of motor carriers to automatically transmit truck manifest data and obtain release of their cargo, driver and equipment via the Automated Commercial Environment computer system being developed to handle Customs entries and other communication with the trade community. CBP restarted its pilot test program in Blaine on Jan. 31 after a one-month interruption to correct technical problems that arose since the test began in mid-December.
Until the ABF transmission went through, CBP officers had to key in information from the paper manifest presented by the driver because virtually no trucking companies had a working Automated Manifest System account and hadn't had their system certified to communicate with CBP.
There are only three carriers that have been certified for EDI manifest transmissions, including ABF, a less-than-truckload motor carrier, and UPS, which specializes in small package delivery, said trucking sources who were briefed by CBP on the progress of the e-manifest.
UPS was scheduled to file its first electronic manifest Monday, but the result of the test was not known, an official said. Attempts to reach CBP officials involved in the Blaine project were unsuccessful.
Smaller carriers are expected to be totally dependent on filing their manifests through the Web-based ACE portal. Brown Lines, based in Washington, is the only trucking company certified and able to transmit manifest data through the portal so far.
The truck manifest is supposed to speed up processing at the border by eliminating the use of paper documents and allowing CBP to automatically match up the truck manifest with the customs entry filed by a carrier or broker ahead of time. It is designed to give inspectors the ability to see all entry data from seven different release programs for all the shipments on the truck in one integrated screen without having to toggle back and forth between different screens and different computer systems to check compliance with customs rules.
It takes up to five minutes for a Brown Lines' employee to enter the data from one shipment into the Web-based manifest and as much as 30 minutes to an hour to fill in the data fields for a manifest with five shipments on the trailer, according to an industry official who has been in touch with Brown Lines General Manager Steve McQuery.
Sluggish Internet connections and the need to look up a consignee's address or other bits of information can slow down the manifest filing process, the official said.
'They'll have to improve that' manifest filing time, the official said. 'Unless they make it more user friendly it will take a long time to do onesies and twosies.' The official added that many smaller carriers may opt to let brokers handle the filing for them, but didn't expect brokers with any kind of volume to use the portal at this point.
Meanwhile, the certification process is so involved that it has severely limited the number of trucking companies available to participate in the test, one official said. There are seven steps to achieve certification and if CBP asks the carrier to modify some aspect of its system the CBP system wipes out the initial programming changes and the carrier has to start all over again.
One problem that CBP technicians have corrected was the inability of the ACE system to handle a manifest with more than 1,700 shipments on a trailer, which is common in the parcel environment, one trucking official said.