This cross-border trucking thing with Mexico has become so convoluted I'm starting to feel like Lou Costello, the comic who asked his partner, Bud Abbott, for the names of the players on his baseball team. The first baseman was Who, What was at second base, I Don't Give A Darn was at shortstop, the third baseman was I Don't Know and Why was in left field. It was classic comedic confusion.
There's no humor in the bizarre chain of events surrounding the pilot program to allow Mexican trucks to run long distance here, and U.S. trucks to do likewise in Mexico. But after 13 years of wild pitches and dropped fly balls, we're still trying to figure out Who's going to bend first, Why, and What will happen when they do.
The U.S. and Mexican governments claim conditions of the pilot program are adequate for launch, and that it will help both countries' economies. The usual opponents pounced, on grounds of safety and American job losses (story, page 12). Congress voted to cut off pilot program funding, and the courts may shut down the border opening. That's fairly complex, but:
- Canacar, the powerful Mexican fleet association, wants the pilot program delayed, saying it gives U.S. truckers a competitive advantage. But it supports eventually opening the border.
- The buzz on the road among American truck drivers: The program will take jobs, won't adequately document Mexican drivers' credentials and will invite terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security disagrees.
- Most fleet managers are watching and waiting, but some feel the project needs more work on safety and enforcement. Others say it's unfair to Americans because Mexican fleets don't have to buy the more expensive U.S. emissions-qualified engines.
- Some, like Allan Berger, VP of Arriba Equipment Services in Houston, feel that a U.S. CDL and proficiency in English should be mandatory for all drivers operating here. As it stands now, border officers must decide if a driver is proficient enough in English. Berger also fears a rash of falsified documents among incoming drivers.
- The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. cites findings by the Office of the Inspector General that border state records of Mexican trucks operating in the U.S. are inadequate – some non-existent. OOIDA says the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration "...has had its safety agenda hijacked by global profiteers."
- One bizarre web site, faxdc.com, adds fuel to the fire by spreading stories of truck wrecks in Mexico. Headlines use terms like "Mexican Murder Trucks" and warn of a Mexican "truck stampede" into the U.S. Its operator, "Minuteman Steve," urges "patriots" to fax Capitol Hill through the site's services – for a fee.
So Who's on first? The Bush Administration, Congress, pilot program critics and a handful of fleets that have been approved for cross-border trucking (at this writing, some are operating).
What's on second? If the DOT appropriations bill containing Congress' effort to cut off funding for the program passes, it's a clear blow to cross-border trucking. But President Bush is likely to veto it. If Congress failed to override a veto, the cross-border demonstration would presumably go ahead.
If they overrode the veto, the program still might continue with the handful of carriers already qualified. Why? FMCSA, out in left field, might not need additional funding.
Then there are the courts, at shortstop. They could say I Don't Give A Darn and strike out whole thing.
The pilot project is part of a commitment the U.S. made in NAFTA to shape up the current inefficient border system. In the scheme of our current trade with Mexico, the demo program is so tiny as to be virtually invisible.
Critics have been vocal, and the administration's mishandling of it only further inflamed them. The bottom line: The pilot program seems a reasonable way to prove if cross-border trucking is a home run or a strikeout. If it's the latter, there's plenty of support in Congress to kill it.
So how's all this going to play out?
I'm on third base. I Don't Know.
E-mail Doug Condra at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write PO Box W, Newport Beach, CA 92658.