Truckers surprised by places they’re asked, and not asked, for TWIC card

| Friday, April 23, 2010

Gary Carr visits ports nearly every day of his trucking life.

Carr, an OOIDA member from Wayne, ME, hauls frozen fish from the northeast to Seattle and back, stopping at ports in Gloucester and New Bedford, MA; Baltimore, MD; and the Port of Seattle.

A year ago, Carr enrolled in the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program, which includes a biometric ID card with a computer chip that stores his fingerprints and U.S. documentation.

Carr said he is rarely asked to show his TWIC card, with port security typically allowing him to drive within 10 feet of water and sometimes close to cargo and cruise ships by merely flashing his driver’s license.

“I don’t understand where it’s totally required and where it’s not,” Carr said. “I like the idea of TWIC. It holds a lot of information to clear you to do a lot of different things. It just amazes me that what the government required me to pay $132 for, I’m not using.”

It appears Carr isn’t alone.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents in a recent landlinemag.com Web poll said their TWIC cards were checked always or “most of the time” at ports they visit. Twenty-nine percent said rarely, and about one third of respondents in the unscientific poll said their TWIC cards were never checked at ports they visit.

More than 1.5 million U.S. workers have enrolled in TWIC, including about 283,000 truck drivers. The program was created after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Standard TWIC enrollment costs $132.50, although workers with “current, comparable” threat assessment background checks such as hazmat endorsements, Merchant Mariner Documents or Free and Secure Trade (FAST) cards may obtain a TWIC card with a shorter lifespan for $105.25. The card is designed to last five years with new background checks.

Increasingly, OOIDA members have told Land Line they’ve been using their TWIC cards for identification purposes when loading and unloading outside of port facilities. Warehouses often want a photocopy of either a driver’s license or a TWIC.

Carr said he prefers handing over his TWIC, which doesn’t list personal information like addresses, date of birth, or Social Security numbers as driver’s licenses often do.

“Unless you know how to read that TWIC card, you’re not going to get anything off of it,” Carr said. “With a driver’s license, they’ve got a Xerox copy that can go anywhere after I show it at these cold storage places.”

Lisa Novak, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Coast Guard, said workers that make even occasional port visits have voiced their desire to have a TWIC card.

Long-haul truck drivers, for instance, have access to secure areas without the need for a port escort.

“They said, ‘This looks like something that may help me do my job more efficiently,’” Novak said. “When they did go, it was much easier for them.”

Whether a truck driver is required to show their TWIC card varies, said TSA Spokesman Greg Soule, depending on which port they’re visiting and whether they need to visit a port area the U.S. Coast Guard has defined as a “secure area.”

The Coast Guard’s Novak said she did not know of any potential safety concerns regarding trucks and access at ports, or whether truckers weren’t being asked to show their TWIC cards.

“I’m not aware of any questions regarding that,” Novak said.

The federal government has appropriated $100 million for TWIC since the program began in 2003, Soule said. An additional $71 million in TWIC enrollment fees paid by applicants also has been spent.

Currently, more than 70 types of card readers are being tested in pilot programs at some ports, Soule said, including systems that require TWIC enrollees to push a finger or two onto a scanning system. Later this year, TSA will turn over results of the card reader program to the Coast Guard before a final TWIC card reader rule is developed and published.

TSA’s TWIC hotline is available at 866-DHS-TWIC (347-8942), as well as TWIC’s e-mail help desk at TWIC.Helpdesk@gcrm.com. The program’s website is available by clicking here.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer
charlie_morasch@landlinemag.com