VILNIUS - Truck drivers jealously watch an automobile line nearby move calmly ahead, leaving them to stare at the rear of a leading truck for another few hours.
This has been an informal duty of truck drivers at Lithuania's borders for years now. The frustrated gaze may last only a few minutes in the future as procedures are set to change with EU accession on May 1.
It's been long time since truck or logistic companies had anything good to say about traversing the Lithuanian border. Many complain about the extremely tiring wait.
"The situation has been unsatisfactory so far, but we hope that everything will change after May 1," says Vidmantas Adomaitis, a spokesman for the road carrier association Linava.
Logistics entrepreneurs claim that the worst situation is at Kalvarija, on the Lithuania-Poland border, where the trucks are held up for hours. Custom officers at the Russian and Belarusian borders also receive little praise.
Just last week truck drivers waited in line for up to four hours at Kalvarija and nine hours at Kybartai, on the country's border with Kaliningrad.
The speed of truck mobility at the border is highly seasonal. Spring and autumn, with exceptionally high traffic flow, are reported to be the worst seasons. The lines tend to expand before weekends too, since most companies are eager to upload and deliver their cargo before the workweek finishes.
"During these periods we often blame custom officers of doing the worst job, but in reality even though the loads of traffic increase, it doesn't mean recruiting more personnel at the customs checkpoint," says Edmundas Daukantas, a managing director at the expeditor company Schenker.
Lithuanian officers do not necessarily receive all of the blame.
"Lately we have noticed a mild tardiness at the Latvian and Polish customs points. The lines tend to get longer, and vehicles cross the border more slowly. If there were only two- or three- hour delays half a year ago, now we might spend up to six hours waiting to go through customs," Daukantas says.
According to the expeditors, the loss of capacity in the customs service started last year with the awareness that the service of custom officers will no longer be in need at the internal borders of EU.
"We shouldn't be angry with the officers for their lack of enthusiasm. These people are about to lose their jobs in a couple of months," adds Daukantas.
Although companies expediting goods don't expect the lines to disappear, they remain optimistic since bureaucracy will be reduced following accession. According to Giedrius Misutis, an information and analysis group specialist for the state border guard service, internal EU borders will have no customs control and will involve minimal document checking.
To further enhance the speed of document processing, separate lanes for EU members and non-EU citizens will be organized at the control post. This practice will be first arranged at the country's international airport and harbor after May 1, and then at the rest of the national border crossings.
But the Linava association maintains some reservations about the future.
"We are hoping the most of EU accession, but still the officials give us a reason to be concerned. They can not specify how long we will be kept out of our route," Adomaitis says.
But Ruta Petkeviciute, a specialist at the customs law regulation department, assures that there will be no queues left at the borders with Poland or Latvia. "The merchandise mobility for EU members will be free, and there won't be any custom control left," Petkeviciute says.
All the same, truckers looking to admire the rear ends of large vehicles will still have the opportunity to do so at the country's borders with Russia and Belarus.
"Nothing will change with the custom service at the external EU borders," according to Petkeviciute.