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Con-Way Truckload's Herb Schmidt gives Land Line Now the straight scoop on trucking in Mexico and why he's not a big fan

By Reed Black
Land Line Now news anchor

 

A cross-border program that opens the U.S.-Mexico border to long-haul trucking operations doesn’t interest Herb Schmidt, now president of Con-Way Truckload.

The trucking industry veteran heads up a division at Con-Way that was one of the first carriers to establish operations in Mexico. That doesn’t mean the company plans to send its drivers deep into Mexico if the border opens up to long-haul trucking operations.

Schmidt talked quite frankly on the subject on a recent Land Line Now program on Sirius XM. He shared his experience with trucking operations in Mexico and his opinion on throwing the border open to long-haul operations.

Land Line Now: Has Con-Way ever sent trucks into Mexico or have you dealt strictly in the commercial zone or what?

HS: No, we don’t send our trucks across. Our desire and our preference is to let the Mexican carriers do the business, do the drayage and do the line haul on the Mexico side and to partner with them, not compete against them. And then we do the U.S. side.

Our drivers handle everything on the U.S. side of the border. Our view, Reed, has always been that that’s a win-win for both sides. As we grow, they grow. As they grow, we grow. Quite frankly, that’s the way the Mexican carriers, the majority of them, view it.

Canacar has been opposed to the pilot project and all the Mexican carriers that we work with have been opposed to it. In fact, none of them are participating in it. So, they prefer to have a cooperative relationship with us as opposed to competing against us, which is what this situation would force us to do.

Land Line Now: Well, can you give us a thumbnail sketch, Herb, of what conditions are like in Mexico for truck drivers as opposed to how they are here in the U.S.?

HS: Well, certainly the road infrastructure is not quite as good as in the United States, and the rest stop infrastructure is not adequate by U.S. standards. A lot of the fuel purchases and things like that that we do electronically are done on more of a cash basis in Mexico.

And then of course there’s the security issue.

The question that I pose to legislators that are in favor of this is simply this: Would you send your family in the family minivan to Mexico City from Laredo or down to Baja through Tijuana or through El Paso and Juarez down to Chihuahua? Would you feel good about that, your family loaded up and driving down there?

Usually they’re silent on the other side of the phone. And it’s simply because they would not. They’ve seen all the security alerts and things that our government has initiated with respect to Mexico. How can they expect that we would feel comfortable sending U.S. drivers into Mexico with trailer loads full of goods – a lot of it high-value stuff?

It’s a security issue. It’s a road infrastructure issue. It’s a cash-versus-electronic data issue. And it’s a rest stop infrastructural type issue. So there’s a lot of problems associated with attempting to send U.S. drivers into Mexico.

Land Line Now: And beyond those concerns, you have real issues with a lack of oversight by the Mexican government in terms of truckers keeping accurate logbooks, is that right? Hours of service records?

HS: Well, I mean sure. You know, the laws are different in the two countries, and consequently you know the trucking operations operate differently. They do not have oversight over logs in the same manner we do. They don’t monitor hours of service in the same manner we do. Right or wrong, they just don’t have it. The infrastructure’s not there.

You know, working in the environment they’re in, they do a good job transporting freight in Mexico, but certainly it’s far different than the way we do the same thing here. And where there’s no oversight, there’s not going to be compliance. We all know that.

So it’s unrealistic to believe that if a Mexican driver came to the border with no oversight over hours-of-service regulations in Mexico that that logbook would be accurate on a consistent basis. And that’s a concern. That ought to be a concern for everyone in the United States.

It’s a real safety concern. Regardless of what the logbook says, again no oversight. How do you have any assurance that it’s accurate, that the driver is truly rested?

Land Line Now: One last question, Herb, and that is that Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and the Obama administration apparently intend to try to resurrect the cross-border trucking program. And they have made assurances that whatever plan they come up with would satisfy safety critics. Do you think that’s something that could actually be put into place any time soon?

HS: Well, I don’t think it’s realistic myself. Even aside from safety concerns … my biggest concern is the loss of U.S. driving jobs. I mean, as I’ve spoken here, I think you can kind of get the picture that the idea of reciprocity, equal reciprocity, really is a smoke screen because of the security and infrastructure and language and all of those issues.

So, bottom line is this, what this is going to do or what this will do is if the reciprocity basically runs one way – you know you could call it “uniprocity.” I mean the Mexican carriers are moving into a much more secure, better road infrastructure, a much more amenable environment by coming into the U.S. and we don’t have the same going the other direction.

So really, they’re going to be taking U.S. miles, U.S. driving jobs and delivering freight in the United States, and that will displace U.S. drivers. I can’t understand for the life of me, especially in this economic environment we’re in today, how that would be beneficial to our country.

Land Line Now: Well, Herb, that covers what I had hoped to ask, unless there’s something you would like to add.

HS: No, that’s pretty much it. That’s it in a nutshell. That’s the same thing I’ve been saying for a long, long time and I’ll say it to whoever will listen to me. LL

 

reed_black@landlinemag.com