PHARR, TEXAS – Pharr International Bridge is doing better in truck crossings this year, as compared to 2019, despite the downturn in economic activity caused by the coronavirus.
In an in-depth interview with The Rio Grande Guardian, Bridge Director Luis Bazan says he and his colleagues were not expecting such good numbers.
The percentage increase in southbound truck crossings for July, 2020 was 4.4, as compared to July 2019. Bazan said this is an incredibly good figure when one considers the loss of two days of bridge crossings, caused by sorghum farmers in Tamaulipas blocking the bridge.
June 2020 saw a 14 percent increase in southbound truck crossings, as compared to 2019.
“We did really well in July, considering the loss the we had on July 8 and 9, which was approximately 3,500 trucks southbound,” Bazan said.
Pharr International Bridge collects tolls on trucks going south.
“Southbound, we came out 4.4 percent ahead, compared to July 2019. The variance is 2,370 trucks. Looking at the southbound total, 56,227 trucks crossed in July,” Bazan reported.
“It is exciting news. Obviously, due to the current economic situation, we are estimating that truck traffic will start to dwindle, eventually, or maybe go back to when COVID first started, but the numbers speak for themselves.”
Bazan said Pharr has been making “a big push” on the marketing side, and talking constantly to the bridge’s stakeholders, to ensure the right services are offered to those in the trade.
“I think it is making a difference. We could easily have been down 4.4 percent. We could have been up over ten percent if we had had the 3,500 trucks that we lost on the 8th and the 9th but the fact that we made about $1.3 million for the month of July is great.”
Bazan said the Pharr leadership is very pleased with the truck crossing numbers.
“We are thinking August will be a good month as well. We are going to end on a positive note by the end of the fiscal year. So, come September. 30, we expect to come out on top,” Bazan said.
“We think July was a good indicator. We were waiting for that. We looked at April, May, and June (the months when the coronavirus pandemic was well underway) and we said, let’s give it an extra month. Let’s look at July, knowing June was a great month. We figured it would be a good July. It turned out to be better than anticipated because of the standoff and all that mess.”
Looking back at April, when the coronavirus really kicked in, Bazan and his team estimated they would lose about 35 to 40 percent of business. Although the bridge was open, many of the maquilas that use the bridge were closed, or running at a reduced capacity.
“We knew April would be the toughest month. And we were only down by 12 to 13 percent. That was not too bad. Not the 35 to 40 percent drop we were expecting,” Bazan reported.
“Then in May we jumped up. Southbound, we only were down, if you were to compare May 2019 to May 2020, we were only down six or seven percent. And then June came around and we said that would be the determining factor, to see how we were going to end the fiscal year and June was through the roof. We were up almost 14 percent in June.”
Bazan pointed out that on July 8 and 9 the Pharr International Bridge was “completely paralyzed” by the action of some of the campesinos (farmers) from northern Tamaulipas. He explained what happened.
“They have a domestic product (sorghum) they sell in Mexico. It is their livelihood and yet what has happened is Mexico has taken away some of the subsidies that they have received in the past. My understanding was that a federal organization opened lines of credit for them, allowing them to get their money back, to get reimbursed for damages to their crops. This happens every year but this year, the federal government has not done much to give them a fair price on their domestic product.”
Bazan said the farmers were demanding the federal government subsidize them for their losses. “They have a bunch of other requests as well. They want a higher value on their product.”
Bazan said that when he looks out of his office window and sees a line of trucks on the bridge, whichever way that line of trucks is going, it is a good sign.
“It means business is moving forward, that regardless of the pandemic, regardless of what is going on, worldwide, there is still movement of goods back and forth. We depend on this movements of goods. So, to me that is excellent news.”
That said, the Pharr leadership still wants to reduce wait times and has infrastructure projects on the books to do that.
“That is our job, to ensure the product gets to the end consumer and to the market in a timely fashion,” Bazan said. “But, yes, back in March when this whole thing broke out and we had to go into shelter at home, we knew that April was going to be a tough month. Why? Because a lot of companies shut down. International trade was going to take a hit, with many of the maquilas shutting down 30 or 40 percent. We knew we were going to take a huge hit.”
Bazan said he was estimating a loss of 35 to 40 percent for the month of April.
“Fortunately for us, business did continue. It was not as bad as we anticipated, and we only lost about 13 percent, as compared to April 2019.”
As for May, 2020, Bazan said he and his team thought things were either going to stagnate or come back a bit.
“So, we were able to come in at about seven percent difference, compared to May of 2019. That means it was progressing, we were moving forward. And then June, this was the month that really spiked for us. We went up almost 14 percent in crossings, so, that was excellent news,” Bazan said.
“It told us our bride is alive and kicking, that we have companies that need to get their product across, that business needs to get done. To see that, it brings a huge smile to our face.”
Bazan said it was uplifting to see the maquilas, including the automotive sector, starting to increase business in May.
“The mining industry, construction, all of these different sectors that were at a standstill or were on standby or completely halted, were now ramping back up. That was a big factor, right there.”
As for passenger vehicles, Bazan said Pharr International Bridge had to cut back last year on the hours available for crossing.
“So now we only have four hours, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. So, there are not many cars coming in from Mexico. Our hours are the same, 6 am to 12 midnight going into Mexico. So there are more cars going into Mexico.”
Bazan said that for June 2020, a total of 56,448 trucks went southbound across the Pharr bridge.
“That was an increase of 6,835 trucks. That brings us in at 13.78 percent. When you look at northbound we were pretty much neck and neck. We had a total of 56,535 for the month of June, an increase of almost 5,000. We were only expecting to go up half of that. We were taking 3,000 trucks over. But, we came in at almost 7,000 trucks. That has a lot to do with just the economy itself.”
Bazan said the Pharr Bridge Board is continuing to market its bridge.
“We have made good inroads with a lot of trade associations. We are tied at the hip with a lot of these stakeholders. It is in their best interest and our best interest to continue that relationship. They help us, we help them. Their customers thrive, we get more customers, which means more crossings.”
Bazan said those stakeholders include transportation, customs and maquiladora trade associations. “We lean on these organizations for data,” he explained.
Bazan finished the interview with some positive words about the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement on July 1. He said he is confident the agreement will lead to more investment. Indeed, he said that investment in warehouses and logistics has already started.
“This is what everybody was longing for, certainty,” Bazan said. “In some ways I wish we could have ironed this out last year because it came in at the worst time. It came in during COVID-19. But, at the same time, we have to be opportunistic about it and say, it came in at the right time because this is when we needed it the most. It is uplifting to know we have this trade deal that is going to allow commerce to continue, that is going to allow us to create more jobs, to increase our gross domestic product. It sets the stage for confidence. It instills confidence that trade will continue. We all need to prove we are tougher than this pandemic. That we are resilient to this pandemic. That it is not going to stop us.”
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