Although relatively few Mexican carriers are expected to initially operate beyond the commercial zones once the United States fully opens its highways to cross-border trucking, the Department of Transportation nevertheless has plenty of work to do
before the border is opened later this year.
That's the finding of a congressional report released last week by the General Accounting Office. Dated Dec. 21, the report was done at the request of a number of representatives who hold positions on transportation-related House committees.
"Specific regulatory and economic factors … may limit the number of Mexican carriers operating beyond the commercial zones," says the report. Some of these factors are a lack of established business relationships beyond the U.S. commercial zones that would permit drivers to return to Mexico carrying cargo, difficulties getting affordable insurance to operate in this country, and congestion and delays in crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Even so, the Department of Transportation isn't ready, says the GAO, charging that the agency "does not have a fully developed or approved operational plan in conjunction with border states to ensure that Mexican-domiciled carriers comply with U.S. safety standards."
Among the concerns cited include how federal inspectors will share inspection responsibilities with state inspectors and making sure Mexican trucks adhere to U.S. emissions standards. To make matters worse, the fiscal year 2002 DOT appropriations passed in December establishes new requirements for DOT regarding Mexican truck safety, such as using advanced technology to weigh trucks and requiring electronic verification of Mexican commercial drivers' licenses.
In addition, says the GAO, "while the Mexican government has developed truck safety regulations and taken steps to enforce safety and air emissions standards, these efforts are relatively recent and it is thus too early to assess their effectiveness." A commercial driver's license database developed with the help of the DOT included less than a quarter of Mexico's commercial drivers by last October.
The GAO recommends that DOT "develop and implement a coordinated operational plan for truck safety at the southwest border," a recommendation DOT officials agree with. DOT says they are well along in efforts to get that plan into place, but the GAO disagrees.
According to published reports, the DOT declines comment on the report.