Mexican Cross-Border Trucking
This is a duplicate of a post I made to:
It’s obvious to me that neither the author or those commenting know much about the trucking industry, or the way cross-border operations are handled. So, here’s a little education for you.
First, let me start by saying that cross-border trade is essential to our economy, and those of our neighbors.
Trucked freight across our southern border takes one of three paths:
1. Freight is loaded on a trailer in Mexico, brought across the border by a Mexican driver, and unloaded at a warehouse for transshipment north.
2. Freight is loaded on a trailer in Mexico, brought across the border by a Mexican driver, and the trailer is picked up by a US driver for final delivery.
3. Freight is loaded on a trailer in Mexico, put on a train, and is transported by rail to a point north of the border, usually within a reasonable distance of it’s final destination, where it’s then picked up by a US driver for delivery.
The type of commodity transported, delivery time requirements, and it’s final destination largely determine which method is used.
Now, let’s examine each type in a little more detail.
Our first method requires transloading of freight. This is not necessarily a bad or inefficient thing to do. Often a load of freight needs to be broken down and sent to multiple destinations — and to do this, it has to be transloaded somewhere along the line.
Our second method is the one most commonly in use today. It’s particularly used where loads cross the border in-bond; that is, they don’t actually clear customs at the border — customs clearance is done somewhere further on down the road. Depending on the commodity, it can take days to get customs clearance. (Note: when I say the load doesn’t “clear customs” at the border, it *doesn’t* mean that loads don’t get inspected; just that the required customs paperwork hasn’t been completed and processed through the system). This is actually a fairly efficient way of handling cross border whole truckload freight. Long delays at truck border crossings are common, and it’s far cheaper to pay a Mexican driver to sit and wait than a US driver. Also, since the delays for border crossing and customs clearance can be quite variable, doing a “drop and swap” helps drivers manage their allowable hours of service. A high percentage of cross-border freight uses this method.
Our third method is similar in most respects to the second, with the addition of a rail journey thrown in. The conditions are similar; however, while rail transport is somewhat cheaper than all-truck movement of freight, it’s also slower. The considerations of the second method as regards in-bond movement also apply. The percentage of freight handled this way is less than the first two methods, but is growing.
While I don’t have exact figures as to the percentages of each type of move, in my experience most cross-border freight uses the second and third methods. Shippers and their customers want their freight to move as cheaply and efficiently as possible, and they’ll choose whatever method is most cost-effective for their particular operations.
Now, let’s move on to the big issue that’s always raised by the groups challenging cross-border trucking — safety.
This is probably the only area that I’m in total agreement with these groups. The ultimate motive of these groups may actually be protecting US jobs, or whatever, but about safety they’re correct. Someone not intimately familiar with truck safety as I am, probably wouldn’t recognize most truck safety problems until they got run over. Let’s look at some of the reasons:
A. Mexican drivers are generally poorly (if at all) trained. Those I’ve spoken to have little or no grasp of many of the areas of knowledge needed for safe operation of a truck. I don’t regard even the existing US requirements for licensing as adequate, much less the informal methods practiced in Mexico.
B. Mexican trucks are largely poorly maintained. To the untrained eye, a truck might look ok, but in reality be a wreck waiting to happen. Even so, I invite you to go down to Laredo, Texas and see for yourself. Pick a good spot where you can observe truck traffic, and you’ll see for yourself.
C. Knowledge of the English language by Mexican drivers is often inadequate or non-existent, but is absolutely essential. (I once had a student from an East European country, who spoke fluent English. However, he had about a two second translation lag, which caused him to have a number of relatively minor collisions (mainly with fixed objects) because he’d miss turns. He ended up getting fired because of that.) Total lack of knowledge is downright dangerous.
D. Mexican drivers are poorly paid as compared to their US and Canadian counterparts. This provides an incentive for Mexican drivers to augment their income by operating outside the safety regulations, or by other than legal means — in other words, smuggling. Whether it’s illegal immigrants, drugs, or whatever, there’s a much larger financial pressure. Gangs operating south of the border are also known to take hostages to force such things, even if the driver doesn’t want to.
While congress and many of these other groups may be pro-teamster, the fact is that most cross-border traffic is handled by non-union drivers. NONE of the large truckload carriers, and very few of the small ones are unionized, and they haul the bulk of the freight moving over our southern border.
I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on the whole issue of cross-border trucking.
Comments and questions are welcome.
Update 1: March 24, 2009
“…Independent reviews of the program reported no major safety concerns over Mexican truckers in the program, but they also concluded that the pilot project was too small to draw any definitive conclusions.” (italics mine).
Sounds like we need a bigger pilot program to resolve the safety and security issues. Such solution needs to be generally accepted as accurate, to eliminate the controversy surrounding the whole issue.