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Yes, the US-Canada border remains open for freight

Freight keeps on trucking as the United States and Canada prepare to shut down their shared border to non-essential travel as early as Friday night to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The U.S.-Canada border crossing at Blue Water Bridge links Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario. (Photo credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Randy James Ulch’s job driving full truckloads between Ontario, Canada, and the eastern United States hasn’t changed much this week. He’s contending with less traffic on the roads and using more hand sanitizer, but the loads have remained steady.

He doesn’t expect much will change late Friday or early Saturday, when Canada and the U.S. plan to close their shared border to non-essential traffic to fight the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Or as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday, “Supply chains, including trucking, will not be affected by this new measure.”

“The first thing I was thinking, ‘Will I be able to get back across?’ But those questions were answered pretty clearly when they said they would keep commercial traffic going,” Ulch told FreightWaves as he prepared to drive to Chicago.

Canadian officials also underscored that truck drivers, including those who are not citizens or permanent residents of Canada but have valid work permits, will continue to be able to cross the border during the closure.

Ulch, a Canadian citizen who drives for Mill Creek Motor Freight, said he had no issues on either side of the border this week as Canada began placing restrictions on who can enter the country.

The 42-year-old has only been a truck driver for about a year. His last employer, Hyndman Transport, shut down in December after its U.S. owner, Celadon Group, filed for bankruptcy. 

“This is still a heck of a lot more stable than some of the factory jobs and office jobs that I’ve had, so I take it in stride,” Ulch said.

Trucks have continued to move relatively freely between the two countries as the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened and travel restrictions have tightened. On Monday, Trudeau announced sweeping restrictions that closed the country’s borders to most non-Canadian citizens, with exemptions for U.S. citizens, Canadian permanent residents and trade.

“It’s been all systems go for us,” Dave Cox, president of Polaris Transportation Group, a less-than-truckload carrier based near Toronto, told FreightWaves on Tuesday. “Our drivers have been able to go back and forth to the U.S. uninhibited.” 

Polaris has seen an uptick in products such as hand sanitizer and canned and dried foods in recent weeks going in both directions, Cox said.

“Our drivers have been professional while practicing good hygiene and social distancing,” he said.

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Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected]