A day with a Mexican cross border transfer driver

International Operator José Antonio García Fuentes in Nuevo Laredo
International Operator/Cross Border drayage driver José Antonio García Fuentes in the cab of his red Kenworth as he prepares to begin his day shuttling trailers back and forth across the World Trade Bridge in Laredo Texas
The sun has barely begun it’s trajectory across the eastern sky as Mexican trucker José Antonio García Fuentes prepares to begin his workday.

Dropping his kids off at school, Jose’ heads to his terminal for what promises to be a long and grueling day.

Jose’ is a Mexican cross border transfer driver, or international transfer driver as he prefers to be called.

Jose arrives at his workplace where he keeps his truck, a red Kenworth conventional that he treats as his own.

“Ayer le di una lavadita para que se viera bonito” says Jose’ as he begins his daily pre-trip inspection as is required by SCT rules. (Translation: “Yesterday I gave her a bath so she would look good”)

You can see on his face that he enjoys the work he does, commenting as he does his pre-trip walk-around.

“Muchos creen que se les llama quinta rueda por las llantas, pero nada que ver, así se le llama a la pieza que trae el camión atrás para enganchar a la caja”, laughs Jose’ as he continues to explain what he’s doing during the pre-trip. (Translation: “Many believe when you refer to the 5th wheel, you’re referring to one of the tires, but it’s the part of the truck that attaches to the trailer”)

The inspection over, Jose’ climbs in the cab, fires her up and begins looking for the trailer he has been assigned to take to a forwarder in Laredo Texas.

Waiting to cross World Trade Bridge
International operators such as Jose’ wait in line on Mexico Hwy 2 to cross the World Trade Bridge inspection zone. Backups like this are common place for cross border shuttle drivers
To drive a vehicle of this size and weight takes skill, training and in some cases nerves of steel. U.S. and Mexican laws restrict international rigs to 102″ in width and 65′ in length unless accompanied by a “piloto unidades” or Pilot Car.

The empty trailer has already been inspected and after Jose’ finishes the log for the trip, he’s on his way. He’ll make the crossing at the World Trade Bridge that connects Nuevo Laredo to Laredo Texas.

Nuevo Laredo has long been considered a main transit point for NAFTA freight. It handles the most shipments of any of the southern border crossings.

Except for a select few, Mexican carriers cannot go outside the commercial zone in Laredo, nor can US carriers leave the commercial zone within Nuevo Laredo.

Although drivers such as Jose’ have long been known as transfer or drayage drivers on this side of the border, Jose’ is quick with the correction on the term.

“Mira amigo, nosotros no somos transfer, el nombre de nuestro trabajo es operador internacional, así dice nuestra licencia, transfer viene del otro lado, pero nada que ver con nuestro trabajo” explains Jose.

(Translation: Look friend, we are not “transfer drivers. the name of our job is “international operator” as it says on our Federal License. We may take trailers to the other side, but it has nothing to do with our jobs.)

In fact, in the United States, a transfer driver is one who drives a yard tractor shagging trailers around a warehouse or taking them from one point in the city to another, something the Mexican drivers are not allowed to do. Jose and his fellow truckers can only cross the trailers and drop them at their destination, and return to Mexico for another one.

It’s 10:00 when Jose’ arrives at Bridge III, the World Trade Bridge with his empty trailer and already there are tractor trailers lined up for miles. Jose’ gets lucky since he’s pulling an empty and has FAST authorization. His wait will be less than 15 minutes to cross.

“The problem with the backup is the American side”, says Miguel Angel Perez, Chief of Vialidad or traffic services for Bridge III. Miguel’s job is to keep order in the lines and keep the line moving, a seemingly impossible task.

“The American’s have all the tools to do the inspections, gamma x-rays, K-9 dogs and iron clad procedures and because of that, each and every truck takes between 5 to 15 minutes to inspect and clear.”

After about an hour, Jose’ has cleared Mexican and U.S. Customs and is on his way to deliver his empty trailer to a warehouse on the south side of Laredo.

International Operators must be able to speak English, by obligation, but many do not know it well Jose’, is well prepared, and carries with him study materials he uses to prepare himself to interact with his customers and officials at the border, even though Spanish is the language of business in Laredo. It’s all about following the rules and doing right.

An international operators pay is $200 to $250 pesos per crossing or approximately $18 to $21 dollars per trip and is paid when the trailers are delivered. On a good day, Jose’ can make 4 crossings earning $65 to $80 dollars per day, more than those employed in the warehouses he delivers to, and much more than the workers at the maquilas which he picks up and delivers the trailers to in Nuevo Laredo. Many days though, he can only do two or three because of the long lines and Mexican and US hours of service laws.

The trailer delivered, Jose’s settles down for what he expects to be a long wait for a return load to Nuevo Laredo, but today is his lucky day. He calls his office in Nuevo Laredo on his NEXTEL phone and they give him his next assignment.

“I come prepared with everything I need for a long wait in line” says Jose’. “Food, water, books to read. Some of the other drivers pass the time sleeping, eating or perhaps shopping”.

The return to Nuevo Laredo is relatively easy, despite some problems with Mexican Customs who have opened three new lanes and are putting in an electronic clearance system such as we enjoy with Canada. But Mexico being Mexico, they are slow to adapt to the new technology, preferring that all the bugs are worked out before it goes online.

The day started at 0930 in the morning at Jose’s yard in Nuevo Laredo, and as Jose’ heads back to Nuevo Laredo with another trailer, it’s already 1300 in the afternoon. But the days not over for Jose’, not by a long shot as he see the lines and chaos of his brother truckers waiting to enter the United States, the line snaking all the way out onto Mexico highway to and south. But, Jose’ is an experienced transfer, er, excuse me, international operator and knows what to expect and he’s well equipped to handle what the job throws at him, in a safe and professional manner.

Sourced from a story by Casar Bolaños in El Manana Diario