Driving into the United States from Mexico or Canada? A free new iPhone app developed by computer science students at UC San Diego allows drivers to give on-the-scene accounts of how long travelers have to wait. That social media information is then made instantly available to other motorists, helping future border crossers like you decide the best time to cross the border by car or truck.
This iReport data is meshed with the data on wait times at the border from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to improve the accuracy of the wait times.
The “Best Time to Cross the Border” mobile app was available on iTunes for free at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/best-time-to-cross-the-border/id570288644?mt=8. Note: unfortunately, as of 2022, the links to the app don’t seem to be working anymore and it is no longer available on App Stores.
“Only commuters who are physically near a port can report wait times for that port,” said Ganz Chockalingam, principal development engineer. “The app has only been available for a few days, and already commuters have started using this feature and we’ve been collecting user reported wait time data. It includes all of the features first made available to Android app users last April, and in addition, the crowdsourcing component called iReport is also available on the iPhone.”
“Best Time to Cross the Border” began last April as an Internet service and a mobile app for Android users (available at Android Market or Google Play at http://bit.ly/RGhheh.
Early online reviews in iTunes for the “Best Time to Cross the Border” for iPhone have been positive. “Amazing app! So helpful!” “As a Mexican, I find this app extremely helpful… and I’m pretty sure it’ll be helpful for a lot of people.” “The data is way more accurate than the other app I used to have.”
“The students did a tremendous job with the whole design, development and implementation process of the app,” said Chockalingam. “They were extremely motivated in developing a real-world application that could help thousands of commuters. They also did a phenomenal job of pooling their resources and releasing the app in less than three months’ time.”
New Dimension to Data
He adds that crowdsourcing information from a cross-section of people crossing the border adds an important extra dimension to supplement the survey that often seemed to differ from the actual wait times.
“Crowdsourcing should eliminate the problems that the Border Patrol has been having with regards to the accuracy of the wait times,” he noted. “We might be able to solve this problem without having to build or deploy any new infrastructure.”
Border officials have considered adding more cameras to high-traffic border checkpoints, also using computer-vision software to automatically capture and calculate how long each car takes to get from the back of the queue to entering U.S. territory. But crowdsourcing offers a way to supplement survey data at no additional cost as long as commuters find the app friendly to use.
“Travelers routinely run into traffic jams getting into the United States, especially from the most popular crossing points with Mexico,”
said Chockalingam last April during the Android app launch.
“You may not be able to reduce the congestion, but with a little help from our app, you can make an informed decision about when and where you want to cross the border if time is a factor.”
One study by the San Diego Association of Governments and Caltrans estimated that long border waits cause $2.5 billion in losses annually to the San Diego regional economy, with typical two-hour delays for trucks at commercial crossings into San Diego County costing the county $455 million in annual revenue from reduced freight activity.