Expanding range of Mexican trucks still under discussion

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A proposed one-year pilot program that would allow Mexican truckers to travel beyond the 20-mile commercial zone to which they now are restricted will not necessarily be announced this year, a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spokesman said.

“We are continuing our conversations with Mexican officials to allow cross-border trucking operations, and at this point there is no hard deadline as to if and when that will occur,” said FMCSA spokesman Ian Grossman. “But if it does, it’s clear from our discussions that the end of the year is the earliest that both sides will be prepared to begin a pilot program.” The number of Mexican trucking companies that will be involved, should the plan be implemented, is likewise still under discussion, Grossman said.

Interim Transportation Secretary Maria Cino described the pilot program in an interview published in the July 24 issue of Traffic World magazine. Cino was quoted as saying the program would involve about 100 Mexican motor carriers and could be unveiled by the end of 2006.

Cino’s comments drew a quick response from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president, called the pilot program a “mistake” and said the United States is in no position to address the safety and security issues of Mexican trucks on U.S. highways. Driver pay in the United States also could be driven down by the competition, Spencer said.

The American Trucking Associations, on the other hand, supports the trucking provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which says the Mexican trucks will operate on U.S. roads eventually, said Martin Rojas, ATA executive director for safety and security operations.

Current U.S. law restricts trucks and drivers from Mexico and Canada to carrying international shipments between their home countries and individual points in the United States; those same laws prohibit foreign trucks and drivers from moving loads from point to point within U.S. borders. However, trucks operating from Mexico can enter the country and operate within a 20-mile limited commercial zone around the border.

Rojas gave the example of international cargo moving from Chicago to Guadalajara. Currently, the trailer is loaded in Chicago and dropped off in Laredo, Texas, where a drayage carrier working with Mexican customs brokers picks up the trailer and drops it across the border. Then a Mexican carrier picks it up and takes it to Guadalajara. “In other words, it takes three tractors to move one trailer,” Rojas said. Freeing up the restrictions would mean one tractor could haul the trailer the whole way, he said. “We have many carriers who look at this favorably because it will increase the efficiency of their operations.”

The plan would involve only international cargo, so drivers of domestic freight would not have to worry about losing their jobs to Mexican drivers, Rojas said. And assuming that Mexican carriers will be unsafe is unfair, Rojas said: “Any foreign carrier must be in compliance with all the regulations and requirements that U.S. carriers must comply with.”

Spencer argues that a law passed by Congress in 2001 lays out specific criteria for the U.S. and Mexican governments to establish before American roadways can be fully opened to Mexican trucks. To date, “Not a single state enforces the directives established by Congress in 2001 regarding Mexican motor carriers,” Spencer said. Among other requirements, the law says, safety exams must verify that Mexican trucking firms have drug- and alcohol-testing programs, proof of insurance, and qualified drivers with clean driving records.