Borderlands: Trucking schools see demand surge during coronavirus; $11.5 million drug bust at Laredo’s World Trade Bridge

Borderlands is a weekly rundown of developments in the world of United States-Mexico cross-border trucking and trade. This week: Trucking schools see demand surge during coronavirus; $11.5 million drug bust at Laredo’s World Trade Bridge; cargo theft of trucks in Mexico up 25% during pandemic; Arizona fast-tracks project to expand truck parking on Interstate 40.

Trucking academies sees demand surge during Coronavirus

Officials at the 160 Driving Academy said demand for commercial driver’s license (CDL) training has remained strong during the pandemic.

“We have had a number of students come to our school through the unemployment office, looking for new vocational training, or they’re looking to enter a new career and they choose truck driving,” Steve Gold, founder of 160 Driving Academy, told FreightWaves

Gold added, “when the unemployment rates go up – it’s at almost 19% – a big number, then there are going to be a lot of people who are going to look at trucking jobs.”

The 160 Driving Academy operates more than 70 trucking schools across the country, including in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin.

Officials at 160 Driving Academy said their CDL classes have been in high demand. Photo credit: 160 Driving Academy

Gold also operates the 160 Truckers Network, which is a recruiting platform/app for matching truck drivers with CDL jobs across the U.S.

Other trucking schools across the country report a surge in interest. Officials at Roadmaster Drivers School in San Antonio said demand for training from new students has increased in recent weeks.

“So even in a pandemic truck driving is in great demand,” said Brad Ball, president of Roadmaster, to Spectrum News.

However, the shutdown of state driver licensing agencies  across the U.S. in response to the coronavirus crisis, as well as social distancing rules, have hampered CDL academies ability to train new drivers.

According to Don Lefeve, president of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), new truckers are critical to meet the country’s needs during the pandemic. 

“To avoid truck driver shortages, which are critical to our nation’s response and recovery, it is imperative that state and federal governments work together so CDL schools and SDLAs can remain open to train, test and license new commercial drivers,” Lefeve said in a release. 

Gold also said the closure of driver licensing agencies has been an issue for new drivers.

“We are pushing for all the department of motor vehicle agencies to get open. You have states like California and Nevada – their DMVs are not open. So students can’t test for a CDL,” Gold said.

Gold, who has worked in the trucking industry for years, said not all carriers are hiring, and not all freight is moving right now.

“Certainly some areas are not hiring right now, like carriers that are skewed towards the automotive industry, but certainly carriers that do business with large consumer packaged good companies that are delivering grocery stores are definitely looking for more drivers,” Gold said.

Gold said the freight industry could rebound by late summer. 

“Two to three months from now the automotive industry is back on, the food processing plants are turned back on and shipments from Asia start coming back into our ports, you could start seeing significant spikes in demand for the carriers,” Gold said. “The industry can absorb a lot of drivers, because there’s going to be a constant, consistent need.”

Cargo theft of trucks in Mexico up 25% during pandemic

Trucks carrying food and other essentials have been popular with thieves along Mexico’s highways in recent weeks.

Cargo theft of trucks has increased 25% during the coronavirus pandemic period, according to a survey conducted by LoJack Mexico.

“About three months ago we started to see very encouraging figures, especially in the central part of the country. But since the lockdown we’ve had a very marked increase in [the robbery of] heavy vehicles,” said David Román, chief executive officer of LoJack Mexico in an interview with news outlet El Universal

LoJack Mexico, a division of Irvine, California-based CalAmp, is a telematics technology and software services company focused on the automotive industry. 

Román added that some parts of Mexico have seen higher increases in cargo theft than others.

“Two municipalities that weren’t reporting such high levels, Zapopan and Guadalajara, are starting to have very serious problems. The Mexico City-Puebla corridor continues to be a very significant focal point for these gangs,” Román said.

Arizona fast-tracks $3.9 million project to expand truck parking on Interstate 40

A project by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) will add 38 truck parking spaces to the Haviland Rest Area along Interstate 40 west of Kingman, Arizona.

“This project helps everyone get safely home by making it easier for long-haul truck drivers to get the rest they need while they support our communities,” said John Halikowski, ADOT director, in a release.

Deemed an emergency project due to the COVID-19 crisis, the upgrade will allow more commercial drivers to rest as they travel long distances delivering essential supplies, according to the release.

The Arizona State Transportation Board awarded the $3.98 million project to Fann Contracting on April 28.

The project will add 22 truck-parking spaces to the existing seven spaces at the eastbound rest area and 16 spaces to the existing seven spaces at the westbound rest area. The facilities are located between mileposts 22 and 23, about 25 miles southwest of Kingman.

The project is scheduled to be completed around July 1. Haviland Rest Area will remain open and available for commercial vehicles and other travelers during the work.

$11.5 million drug bust at Laredo’s World Trade Bridge

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently intercepted 579 pounds of methamphetamine in a shipment of stone tiles at the United States-Mexico border.

The seizure occurred April 25 at the World Trade Bridge port of entry in Laredo, Texas. A CBP officer flagged a tractor-trailer truck hauling a shipment of stone tiles traveling from Jalisco, Mexico, to Los Angeles, California.

Following a canine and non-intrusive imaging system examination, CBP officers discovered a total of 579.37 pounds of alleged methamphetamine concealed within the shipment. The alleged narcotics have a street value of $11.5 million.

The driver was arrested and the case was turned over to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for further investigation.