BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Stakeholders attending a Texas-Mexico Border Transportation Master Plan workshop had a lively conversation about the reasons for a dramatic drop in passenger vehicle crossings at land ports of entry.

The master plan is being conducted by the Texas Department of Transportation and the state agency held the latest of its stakeholder workshops at UT-Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville.

In his powerpoint presentation, Alejandro Solis, principal economist at HR Inc., highlighted data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Services which showed that while truck traffic on international bridges along the Texas-Mexico border has been increasing at a fast rate, passenger vehicle crossings have dipped.

“For the entire Texas-Mexico border, over the past 27 years there has been a significant reduction in the crossing of passenger vehicles,” Solis said.

The data showed that since 1996, the number of northbound personal vehicle passengers has dropped 43 percent. The number reached a high of just under 140 million in 2000 and now stands at around 70 million.

The data showed that since 1996, the number of northbound personal vehicle passengers at the Brownsville Port of Entry (POE) has dropped 34 percent. At the Hidalgo POE it has dropped 56 percent. At the Rio Grande City POE it has dropped 60 percent, and at the Roma POE it has dropped 62 percent. Progreso POE is the exception. Over the same period, the number of northbound personal vehicle passengers at Progreso has grown 2.3 percent.

In all cases, the highpoint was the 1999-2000 period. This suggests increased security following the terror attacks of 9/11 may have been a big reason for the decline. Since 2000 there has also been the recession of 2008-2009 and the rise of cartel violence, both of which could be contributing factors.

Caroline Mays, director of the freight, international trade, and connectivity section at TXDOT, wanted to hear from stakeholders on why they thought passenger vehicle crossings have declined. Mays asked Solis to pause in his presentation while stakeholders gave their views.

Robert Vale, vice president for trade development at Starr-Camargo Bridge Company, said: “2010 was the year the cartel wars kicked off. After that it pretty much dropped off. Since then it has been a slow recovery,” Vale said.

Josue Garcia, Jr., bridge system director for Cameron County, said long wait times is another contributing factor. “The lines keeping getting longer and longer, the crossing times keep getting longer and longer,” Garcia said. “That is a big part on why this happening.”

Mays said that at previous Texas-Mexico Border Transportation Master Plan workshops, other explanations had been given. One of these was that Mexico now has big retail chains like Costco, Walmart and HEB. “They are all in Mexico so you have access to a lot of the consumer products that they used to cross over here to buy,” Mays said.

Another factor, Mays suggested, is that Mexico’s middle class is growing. “They can fly to San Antonio, Houston, etc. They are flying more,” she said.

Another potential reason for the drop in passenger vehicle crossings, is the rise of e-commerce, Mays suggested. “They can order stuff online,” she said.

Another potential reason for the drop in passenger vehicle crossings, some stakeholders said, is the exchange rate is less favorable for Mexican visitors. Another reason given is that the tolls charged at international bridges have gone up.

One potential explanation that was not aired is the legislation authored by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn which allows Mexican nationals with laser visas to stay in the United States for up to six months. Previously they were only allowed to stay for up to 72 hours. Cornyn wanted parity with Canadians. Allowing Mexican nationals to stay longer means they do not have to cross as frequently.

Timoteo ‘Tim’ Juarez, Jr., branch manager for international trade and border planning at TxDOT, moderated the workshop.

Editor’s Note: Click here to learn more about TXDOT’s Texas-Mexico Border Transportation Master Plan.