Congressional transportation leaders attacked the U.S. Department of Transportation’s pilot cross-border trucking program, which DOT Secretary Mary Peters says will allow American truckers into the Mexican marketplace as well.
In about 60 days, when the initial safety audits are done and proof of insurance verified, the first Mexican trucks authorized under the pilot program will begin traveling beyond the border areas, Peters said at a Feb. 23 news conference.
“The trucks must be insured by a U.S.-licensed firm,” she said. “And from hood to taillamps, they must meet United States safety standards, including brakes, turn signals and cargo-securing equipment.”
Until 1982, Mexican trucks could drive anywhere in the country, Peters noted. Currently, American trucks also are restricted from cross-border trucking. But this new program, which will admit up to 100 Mexican carriers, will allow an equal number of U.S. trucking companies to cross the border and compete in Mexico. Sixty of those 100 Mexican carriers already do business in the United States.
No U.S. carrier has applied yet to do business in Mexico, but U.S. carriers have purchased Mexican carriers, Peters said.
Two prominent Democratic congressmen — U.S. Rep. James L. Oberstar of Minnesota, House Transportation Committee chairman, and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, who leads the Highways and Transit Subcommittee — criticized the move.
“It is impossible to know how many hours or days a driver has been behind the wheel of a truck in Mexico, without rest, prior to crossing the border and entering our highways,” Oberstar said. “Anecdotal evidence from news reports suggests that working hours for truck drivers in Mexico go far beyond anyone’s estimate of a safe, reasonable limit.”
He added that U.S. officials lacked sufficient oversight and established controls for drug and alcohol testing of Mexican truckers. DOT representatives said the Mexicans’ urine tests are required to be processed in U.S. labs.
DeFazio said he was “dubious” Mexican trucks and drivers will meet safety and environmental standards equal to those of the United States.
“Under the North American Free Trade Agreement the U.S. has consistently compromised its environmental and labor standards,” DeFazio said. “Now we’re being asked to risk the safety of citizens on highways and in communities where these trucks will travel. You can be sure Congress will be keeping a close eye on the implementation of this pilot program.”
DOT representatives said Mexican CDL tests are comparable to U.S. tests. Whatever hours a Mexican driver accumulates before crossing the border will count as HOS on his logbook, and Mexican drivers are required to keep logbooks to U.S. standards, the DOT said.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, scheduled a March 8 hearing to investigate whether current federal leadership “has fulfilled both the spirit and the letter of the law.”
The federal government has hired and trained hundreds into the inspection program, which currently has 540 federal and state inspectors, Peters said. “And under our safety inspection plan, each and every truck in the demonstration program will be checked, and any unsafe vehicle or unfit driver will be taken off the road,” Peters said.
The program requires Mexican drivers to have a valid commercial driver’s license, carry proof that they are medically fit, and comply with United States hours-of-service rules, Peters said. “And they must be able to understand and respond in English to questions and directions from inspectors,” Peters added.
Mexican carriers will not be able to move goods from one U.S. city for delivery to another or to haul hazardous materials, Peters said.
Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president, said that two years ago, the DOT inspector general found that the Mexican government and Mexican motor carriers did not meet congressionally mandated requirements. A new inspector general audit report is due in the next couple of months, he said.
“Where is the inspector general’s report that tells us that Mexico is meeting U.S. standards?” Hoffa asked. “Why is the president willing to move forward when his own inspector general has stated that Mexico cannot meet its obligations?”
DOT representatives said the 2005 report indicated they had met the congressional requests.
They were not able to say immediately whether Mexican drivers would be required to have a passport. However, Mexican drivers will be required to have temporary entry visas, which all non-U.S. citizens must have to do business in the United States, DOT said.
There is no test of Mexican carriers’ proficiency in U.S. regulations, but information on American regulations is provided to applicants, DOT said. Carriers who are accepted but chalk up violations will be subject to more inspections or, if the violations are especially serious, removed from the program, DOT said.
Out-of-service rates on Mexican trucks and drivers are comparable to those of U.S. trucks and drivers, DOT said.
The American Trucking Associations voiced approval for the announcement. “Such regulation of Mexican carriers operating in the United States will ensure a level playing field in cross-border operations,” said Clayton Boyce, ATA’s vice president of public affairs.
Additional information on the cross-border inspection program can be found at www.dot.gov/affairs/cbtsip/.