The cars are still plentiful at the Huntingdon-Sumas border crossing. The motorhomes and trains too. And more trucks ventured into the United States last year through the port than ever before.
But the buses are all but gone, a phenomenon noticed by few but indicative of a couple major trends in British Columbia’s tourism industry.
In 2007, a total of 63,318 bus passengers on 1,974 buses made their way through the Sumas crossing, according to U.S. government figures. Everyday, an average of five buses crossed the border in Abbotsford.
Just a decade later, and that number has plummeted. Last year, just 345 buses, carrying 9,567, crossed the border. That’s a decline of more than 80 per cent. Last August saw just a measly seven buses cross the border into the United States.
The decrease has been slow and steady over the past decade. In 2010, three years after the 2007 high mark, bus traffic had been cut in half. But it didn’t stop there. Nearly every year year saw major drops in bus traffic; 2017’s figure was almost half that of 2015.
Some other major ports have seen drops in bus traffic too, but none as large as that of Sumas; and the busiest crossing on the border, Peace Arch at Blaine, Wash., has seen no major change in the number of buses passing through.
Several factors have likely combined to reduce the bus load here, according to Tourism Abbotsford’s Craig Nichols and Abbotsford Duty Free general manager Paul Dickinson.
Nichols suggested that the opening of four new casinos in the Fraser Valley between 2007 and 2012 may have led Washington State casino operators to cut buses they had been running from Canada.
He also noted a general decline in the group travel business over the past 10 years.
Dickinson, meanwhile, said so-called Open Skies policies introduced between 2006 and 2012 resulted in more flights from Asian countries landing at Vancouver International Airport.
Tourists from those countries once flew into Seattle, then up through Vancouver and, after often taking a cruise, looped through the Rockies and crossed back into the United States through Abbotsford.
The dollar’s rise and fall too has played a part, Dickinson said the end of the GST rebate program for tour operators, along with the general business of the crossing may also have had an impact.
But the drop in bus traffic hasn’t been mirrored in other vehicle types, nor at other crossings. Although vehicle traffic has fallen from its peak five years ago, personal vehicle traffic in 2017 was nearly identical to 2016.
Truck traffic has risen steadily, with just shy of 160,000 trucks passing through the border. That makes the crossing the second-busiest for truck traffic in B.C., with only the Peace Arch crossing at Blaine, Wash. seeing more trucks: around 370,000 in total last year.