Cross-border trucking program critiqued

Published September, 09 2009

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has satisfied much of the safety recommendations made for the Mexico cross-border trucking program, but needs better traffic conviction data, its oversight office reported.

The agency’s Office of Inspector General’s recently released its Aug. 17 audit of the program that ended in March after President Obama signed a bill barring project funding. The office was required to annually review the program, which began in 2007 and allowed a limited number of Mexican and U.S. fleets to do business beyond the border zone.

The FMCSA fully met six of the eight congressionally required criteria. It also substantially met the criteria to have “adequate capacity at southern border to conduct meaningful inspections,” as well as “having sufficient databases to allow safety monitoring of Mexican carriers and drivers.”

The FMCSA noted that program Mexican carriers had a driver out-of-service rate of 0.5 percent and a vehicle out-of-service rate of 7.2 percent during the first year of the project. U.S. carriers had driver and vehicle out-of-service rates of 7.2 percent and 22.6 percent, respectively, during 2007.

But the OIG reported that for 2007, the percentage of Mexican vehicles placed out-of-service for safety or regulation violations was 21.6 percent, and the percentage of drivers placed out-of-service for license violation was 1 percent.

The audit also listed ’07 data for Central American-Domiciled Motor Carriers inspections, which appeared to be not included in DOT data. The FMCSA declined clarification on this and other audit findings.

Of these 775 inspections on Central American carriers, 33.6 percent of vehicles were placed out of-service for safety or regulation violation. More than 49 percent of drivers were placed out of service for license violations. In ’08, there were 878 inspections in this group, with 38.4 percent of vehicles placed out-of-service for safety or regulation violations and 63.2 percent of drivers placed out-of-service for license violations.

The auditors said the Mexican Conviction Database data needed to be improved because states inconsistently report traffic convictions by Mexican CDL holders to the Mexican Convictions Data Base

The FMCSA responded that in December, it entered a memorandum of understanding with Mexico to provide safety data exchange.

Mexican driver safety is evaluated identically to United U.S. and Canadian drivers and disqualifying violations on drivers is the same for the three countries, it said.

The agency stated that not having an operating authority is not considered a disqualifying offense for individual driver licensing purposes and is not on a Mexican driver’s license record or in the Mexican Convictions Data Base. However, this information is included in the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System.

Further, states are not required to report Mexican CDL holder convictions to the MCDB, the agency said. While this data can be useful, MCDB trends “are not necessarily indicative of the quality or uniformity of enforcement action,” it wrote. The FMCSA is bettering MCDB data quality, it added.

The OIG concluded that agency officials should consider information as it moves forward, along with other federal U.S. and Mexican entities, to propose legislation for a new cross-border trucking project that meets congressional concerns and North American Free Trade Agreement commitments.

This spring, Mexico responded to the project’s end by imposing $2.4 billion in tariffs on U.S. products, which some congressional representatives say is beyond the limit allowed by NAFTA. In June, Mexico’s National Cargo Transportation Association sued the United States for $6 billion because the program was discontinued.

Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said “this report shows without a doubt that opening the border to Mexican trucks and buses puts an unacceptable strain on our border resources.

“Federal officials couldn’t keep up with inspections when there were only 118
trucks in the pilot program,” Hoffa said. “If the border were opened to all Mexican trucks,
border inspection stations would be completely overwhelmed.”