Opponents of the Bush administration's plan to begin long-distance trucking across the Mexican border threw another boulder onto the road recently, when the House passed a funding bill that says no money can be spent on the pilot project through October of next year.
That provision was introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. DeFazio has said he is "skeptical" about DOT's plan to test its safety regime with a limited border opening of one year for 100 qualified Mexican carriers.
"I have serious concerns over the DOT's ability to ensure Mexican carriers meet our federal safety requirements and the ability of U.S. inspectors to adequately monitor Mexican trucks and drivers once they cross the border," DeFazio has said.
At press time, the Senate had yet to vote on its version of the Department of Transportation funding bill, which does not have the same cutoff. The Senate's version says that no money can be spent on the project until DOT demonstrates that it has a strict safety enforcement scheme in place.
Once the Senate clears its bill, members will take the bills to conference to come to terms on the final version.
Meanwhile, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is studying comments on its proposed pilot project and awaiting the judgment of the DOT Inspector General, who has been tasked by Congress to audit the safety scheme FMCSA has put in place. Specifically, the IG must determine if the agency has established mechanisms to ensure that only qualified Mexican carriers cross the border, and to ensure that those who do cross the border comply with U.S. regulations.
Under the law, the pilot cannot begin until the Inspector General gives the green light. The IG began work in mid-June, but has not said when the audit will be done.
The agency tried last spring to launch its pilot project without public comment, but opponents of the opening rebuffed that move and forced the agency to open the matter for public discussion. More than 1,200 comments have been filed, most from individual truckers who oppose the project.
DOT has said that it is committed to implementing the program. Under the enforcement regime, Mexican carriers that want to come into the U.S. will have to abide by all U.S. safety rules and must clear an audit that includes an on-site visit from U.S. inspectors.
Here is a brief summary of what the safety agency has proposed for Mexican carriers:
• They could haul only international shipments – cargo loaded in Mexico and delivered to the U.S., and freight loaded in the U.S. and delivered to Mexico. They are not permitted to haul hazardous material.
• Drivers must comply with the entry requirements of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They cannot participate in domestic delivery in competition with U.S. drivers.
• They must comply with all federal and state environmental rules.
• They must certify that their trucks meet U.S. equipment standards set by the National Highway Safety Administration.
• They will have to comply with all U.S. safety standards, including hours of service, driver medical standards, financial responsibility, drug and alcohol testing, size and weight limits. They must be able to communicate in English.
• Their trucks will have to clear a safety inspection and must have a valid inspection decal from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.
• They will have to clear a "pre-authorization safety audit" that will occur at the carrier's place of business in Mexico. The audit will review the carrier's safety management system, including procedures and records that validate the carrier's safety process.
• They will have to have insurance underwritten by a U.S. insurance company.
• They will have to pay state registration fees and state and federal fuel taxes.