Forty-year-old Fernando Paez was both excited and a little nervous Friday afternoon as one of his drivers prepared to cross the border with a load headed for North Carolina. Paez is owner of Nuevo Leon, Mexico-based Transportes Olympic — the first Mexican carrier authorized to operate in in the United States beyond the so-called commercial zone as part of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new pilot program.
“We’re only taking one truck just in case the Teamsters burn one of them,” Paez said jokingly. “Hopefully, we won’t have any trouble.”
Paez received authority from the FMCSA Thursday night as the first Mexican carrier to participate in the pilot program. Meanwhile, the Mexican government approved El Paso, Texas-based Stagecoach Cartage and Distribution as the first U.S. trucking company to operate in Mexico.
Transportes Olympic’s first truck left for the U.S. border at about 6 p.m. Friday, reports Jorge Arboleda, who is editor of Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based Transportista magazine and is riding in the truck with Paez’s driver. (Transportista is owned by Randall-Reilly Publishing, which also publishes eTrucker, Overdrive, Truckers News, CCJ and other trucking publications.)
Teamsters held protests at some border entry points Thursday in anticipation that the Bush administration was poised to give the go-ahead for a one-year pilot program that will eventually allow up to 100 Mexican carriers access to U.S. highways in fulfillment of U.S. obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
U.S. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, along with other congressional members and representatives of OOIDA, the Teamsters and the Truck Safety Coalition blasted the pilot program for ignoring public opinion and putting the American public in danger because they say Mexican trucks are unsafe.
“Democrats and Republicans are united in protecting America’s highways, only the White House seems to be out of the loop,” said Rep. Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.).
But Paez says the Mexican trucking industry is being painted with a broad brush. He started his trucking business 17 years ago, following American practices and rules, including his hiring practices, creating individual files for all of his employees, and carrying out drug tests and safety training sessions. He also teaches drivers English, which he speaks fluently.
Transportes Olympic operates 45 trucks — all of them late-model Freightliners built in the United States under U.S. environmental and safety standards. Responding to charges that Mexican trucking companies don’t keep complete records, Paez says he has records of each truck’s maintenance, identified with its VIN number.
Paez says he is proud that his company was the first chosen. “I have spent years preparing my company for this moment.”