First Mexican Truck Crosses U.S. Border as Pilot Program Resumes for 3-Year Test

By Timothy Cama, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Oct. 31 print edition of Transport Topics.

Mexico-based Transportes Olympic sent the first Mexican truck into the United States in more than two years this month as part of the cross-border trucking agreement between the countries, kicking off the three-year test of Mexican carriers.

The carrier’s 2009 Freightliner, driven by Josue Cruz, crossed the Rio Grande at Laredo, Texas, on Oct. 21, then continued through Texas to Garland, where it arrived the next day, Guillermo Perez, the carrier’s transportation manager, told Transport Topics.

“Everything ran OK; everything was really nice,” Perez said.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has granted Transportes Olympic permanent operating authority because it had participated in the previous demonstration program, the agency said.

Transportes Olympic’s owner, Fernando Paez, spoke to a crowd of about 300 at a ceremony on the Mexican side of the border before the truck crossed.

“We have to be extra orderly and very respectful,” Paez said, according to the Associated Press. “We will demonstrate that we can operate safely and efficiently.”

FMCSA granted Transportes Olympic operating authority for the pilot program a week earlier, “after an extensive safety review,” the agency said. The flatbed carrier, headquartered in a suburb of Monterrey, was also the first to attain operating authority and to send a truck across the border in the 2007 pilot program (10-24, p. 7).

FMCSA’s permit caused the Mexican government to announce Oct. 14 it would lift the remainder of the tariffs it had placed on 99 U.S. goods. Mexico lifted the tariffs hours before the truck crossed, the Mexican Embassy said.

Since the carrier was granted operating authority, Transportes Olympic has received an influx of solicitations. “We have been receiving a lot of calls for new clients, as we expected,” Perez said.

Perez plans to get more trucks and more drivers entered into the program. “We don’t know when, or how many, but that’s the plan,” he said.

The carrier needs to bring any additional trucks to a border station for inspection and send paperwork about additional drivers to FMCSA for approval.

Because Transportes Olympic operated during the 2007-2009 cross-border demonstration program, it was granted permanent operating authority a day after it gained provisional authority. Its time in the prior program counted toward the 18 months required before a carrier can obtain permanent authority, FMCSA said.

With permanent authority, Transportes Olympic’s trucks now will be exempt from the random inspections at the border, but its trucks and drivers still must be approved and its trucks still must have electronic logging devices, according to the terms in the memorandum of understanding that the United States and Mexico signed in July.

FMCSA is working on a system by which Mexican carriers will be able to convert permanent authority from the pilot program into the same authority U.S. carriers have.

Plastic Express, City of Industry, Calif., was granted permanent operating authority by Mexico years ago, said Tom McKellar, vice president of transportation for the bulk carrier. “We can go anywhere in Mexico,” he told TT.

Plastic Express had driven into Mexico since the 1980s, when no regulations prohibited the carrier from doing so. As regulations were passed, it attained operating authority from the Mexican state of Baja California and then participated in the country’s 2007 pilot program to gain authority throughout Mexico.

The United States ended its dem-onstration in 2009, but Mexico continued its program. “They kept their end of the bargain,” McKellar said. Plastic Express eventually gained permanent authority.

The California carrier hauls plastic materials, and Mexican trips account for about 5% of its business, McKellar said. Plastic Express trucks travel mainly to Baja California and No-gales, just across the border from Arizona, he said.

A&R Transport Inc. and Stagecoach Cartage & Distribution also have operating permits from Mexico.

Also last week, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General announced it launched an audit of FMCSA’s pilot program.