B.C. residents spent an estimated $2.6 billion cross-border shopping in the U.S. last year, according to estimates from the Business Council of B.C.
And it says the higher-than-normal level of spending south of the border is contributing to the weakness of retail sales for businesses in B.C.
According to the study, the rise of cross-border shopping in recent years has been driven by three main factors – the strong Canadian dollar, recent increases in duty-free exemptions and the large gap between gas prices in Metro Vancouver and Washington State.
The business council estimates short-term spending by B.C. residents in the U.S. added up to as much as $1.6 billion last year, while that figure rises to between $2 and $2.6 billion if longer vacation-type trips are counted.
And those figures count only shopping for goods, fuel and groceries, they don’t include services, restaurant meals or entertainment, which the report says might add another $1 billion or more.
Same-day trips across the border by B.C. residents have soared 143 per cent from 2.3 million crossings in 2009 to 5.7 million last year.
“The increase in trips is plain to see,” the report said. “There are frequently long line ups at border crossings, gas stations in adjacent U.S. communities are busy, and parking lots at shopping centres are filled with B.C. licence plates.”
It also recounts calls in Bellingham for American-only shopping times when locals won’t have to jam into stores with hordes of bargain-hunting B.C. visitors.
Increases in B.C.’s carbon tax and TransLink’s fuel tax in the Metro region “have compounded earlier price discrepancies, creating powerful incentives for many British Columbians to fill their tanks south of the border.”
A 70-litre fill-up costs about $25 less south of the line.