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First certified Mexican truck crosses U.S. border

Posted By eTrucker Staff On September 19, 2007 @ 9:10 pm In News & Stories | Comments Disabled

At approximately 12:50 a.m. (CDT) Saturday, Sept. 8, the first Mexico-domiciled truck authorized under the Bush administration’s pilot program to transport cargo within the United States cleared federal inspections at the U.S. border in Laredo bound for North Carolina.

In light of the special occasion, border agents had moved the 2007 Freightliner owned by Transportes Olympic of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, to the front of the line for an extensive inspection.

After more than two hours of inspections, driver Luis Gonzalez headed north on I-35 and less than 30 minutes later crossed the 25-mile commercial zone that has been the boundary for Mexican trucks since the United States closed its border to its southern neighbors in 1982.

Despite scattered protests from some American trucking and labor organizations since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration gave the green light to the pilot program Thursday night, the truck crossed without incident, reports Jorge Arboleda, editor of Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based Transportista magazine. Arboleda rode along with Gonzalez as he left Monterrey, Mexico, at about 6 p.m.(Transportista, a Spanish-language trucking magazine, is owned by Randall-Reilly Publishing, which also publishes eTrucker, Overdrive, Truckers News, Commercial Carrier Journal and other trucking publications.)

Forty-year-old Fernando Paez, owner of Transportes Olympic, was both excited and a little nervous Friday afternoon.

“We’re only taking one truck just in case the Teamsters burn one of them,” Paez said jokingly. “Hopefully, we won’t have any trouble.”

Paez received authority from FMCSA Thursday night as the first Mexican carrier to participate in the pilot program. Meanwhile, the Mexican government approved El Paso, Texas-based Stagecoach Cartage and Distribution as the first U.S. trucking company to operate in Mexico.

Although this was the first Mexican pilot program truck to enter the United States, Transportes Olympic and its sister U.S. company, OMC Carriers of McAllen, Texas, which Paez also owns, have hauled international cargo under a lease agreement for three years.

Teamsters held protests at some border entry points Thursday in anticipation that the Bush administration was poised to give the go-ahead for a one-year pilot program that will eventually allow up to 100 Mexican carriers access to U.S. highways in fulfillment of U.S. obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation Friday for a review of the pilot program and a stay on the program pending review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president, said the program did not follow congressional directives and legal requirements.

“We believe we have a strong case against what is being called a pilot program, but is actually a stealthily implemented, pre-ordained plan to fully open our highways to Mexican trucks,” Spencer said. “This is all done in the name of global economics and cheap labor.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 32 Mexico-domiciled carriers have passed the Pre-Authorization Safety Audit and these carriers intend to conduct operations in the United States with 174 trucks. DOT estimates that if 100 carriers participate in the one-year pilot program, they will operate more than 500 trucks.

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, along with other congressional members and representatives of OOIDA, the Teamsters and the Truck Safety Coalition blasted the pilot program for ignoring public opinion and putting the American public in danger because they say Mexican trucks are unsafe.

“We do not find that the Mexican system is equivalent to the American system,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)

But FMCSA officials say the pilot program has met all congressional requirements and all Mexican trucks and Mexican truck drivers will be held to the same strict standards as American truckers.

The U.S. House of Representatives has tried several times in recent months to block the program.

The Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved H.R. 1773, the Safe American Roads Act of 2007, 66-0 on May 2; the House passed it 411-3. This legislation would allow a three-year pilot program, but only under specific conditions and once all prerequisites are met to ensure safety.

The bill includes mechanisms to shut the program down if there is any detrimental effect on safety. The bill also requires Congress to pass additional legislation for the border to open fully beyond the limited pilot program.

In May, Congress passed and President Bush signed supplemental funding legislation that imposed a number of conditions and prerequisites on the proposed pilot program, including some – but not all – of the measures included in H.R. 1773.

On July 24, the House passed the fiscal 2008 funding bill (H.R. 3074) for the Department of Transportation and other agencies that included a provision to bar DOT from using any funds to implement its proposed pilot program.

“Democrats and Republicans are united in protecting America’s highways. Only the White House seems to be out of the loop,” said Rep. Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.).

Paez says the Mexican trucking industry is being painted with a broad brush. He started his trucking business 17 years ago, following American practices and rules, including his hiring practices, creating individual files for all of his employees, and carrying out drug tests and safety training sessions. He also teaches drivers English, which he speaks fluently.

Transportes Olympic operates 45 trucks – all of them late-model Freightliners built in the United States under U.S. environmental and safety standards.

In response to criticism that Mexican carriers often don’t keep accurate records, Paez says he has records of each truck’s maintenance, identified with its VIN number.

Paez says he is proud that his company was the first chosen. “I have spent years preparing my company for this moment.”

(Avery Vise and Jill Dunn contributed to this report).

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