Congress may put its stamp on program, with restrictions
By Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOT
A vote scheduled to be taken later this week in the US House of Representatives would place restrictions on a proposed Department of Transportation program to allow US-Mexico crossborder trucking. The measure, if it does become law, might actually jumpstart crossborder traffic by giving it the Congressional stamp of approval. But the program must also overcome legal hurdles before it comes to fruition. If it does, the program is slated to begin in July.
In February, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced a program that would allow 100 US and Mexican trucks full access to either side of the border. On May 1, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published rules for the program that called for application and inspections processes and adherence by each side to the other’s licensing, insurance, and safety rules.
Even before the proposed FMCSA rules saw the light of day, a coalition of labor and environmental groups sued in federal court to stop the program. On May 2, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reported a bill, now pending before the entire House, which in many ways mimicked the proposed FMCSA regulations, with some additional provisos.
Under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement, an open market for cross-border transportation was supposed to have commenced on January 1, 2000. But crossborder trucking has proved to be a trouble spot. Thus far US and Mexican trucks operate only within a few miles to the other side of the border.
The Clinton Administration repeatedly withheld access to Mexican trucks citing safety concerns, until a NAFTA dispute panel found those delays to be unjustified in March 2001. The Bush Administration then declared the border would be open on January 1, 2002, while an array of opponents lobbied Congress for further delays. Congress obliged during the summer of 2001, passing restrictions to DOT’s authority to process Mexican carrier applications for operating authority and to make infrastructure improvements and personnel enhancements at the Mexican border.
On February 23, 2007, United States Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters and Mexico Secretary of Communications and Transportation Luis Tellez Kuenzler announced a demonstration project to implement the trucking provisions of NAFTA. The purpose of the project, according to the proposed FMCSA regulations published in the Federal Register, ‘is to demonstrate the effectiveness of the safety programs adopted by Mexico-domiciled motor carriers and the monitoring and enforcement systems developed by DOT, which together ensure that Mexican motor carriers operating in the United States can maintain the same level of highway safety as US-based motor carriers.’
‘There are no exceptions to safety regulations for trucks from Mexico,’ said John Hill the FMCSA administrator. ‘Mexico’s trucks and drivers must meet all US safety requirements before they cross the border now, and before they will be allowed to drive beyond the border region.’
Hill related that he witnessed FMCSA personnel conducting a pre-authorization safety audit on a Mexican motor carrier in Monterrey, Mexico. ‘For this demonstration project, FMCSA will conduct 100% of pre-authorization safety audits in Mexico,’ he added. ‘These audits ensure that Mexican carriers wishing to operate in the US beyond the border zones have systems in place to comply with all DOT regulations, including driver qualification, drug and alcohol testing, hours of service, vehicle maintenance, and insurance.’
Organizations like Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Law Foundation, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, as they have several times in the past, discredit government pronouncements about the safety and responsibility of Mexican trucking companies and truckers. Those groups filed a law suit challenging t