Mexican, U.S. carriers cleared for cross-border operations

The first Mexico-domiciled carrier to gain access to the United States was cleared Thursday night, Sept. 6, by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Transportes Olympic of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, planned to haul its first load today, Sept. 7 under the agency’s yearlong demonstration project. Meanwhile, the Mexican government approved El Paso, Texas-based Stagecoach Cartage and Distribution as the first U.S. trucking company to operate in Mexico.

The announcement followed the release earlier on Thursday of a congressionally mandated report from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General as well as DOT’s response to the report, which also was required under legislation enacted in May to establish the terms under which the Mexican truck pilot program could move forward.

“This long-awaited project will protect public safety on American highways as we work to both save consumers money and help our economy,” said FMCSA Administrator John Hill in an agency news release.

According to FMCSA, the DOT IG affirmed FMCSA’s plans to go beyond statutory requirements and check every truck that crosses the border as part of the demonstration project. FMCSA’s response, delivered in a letter to Congress, describes the planned coordination among federal truck inspectors, state officials and Customs and Border Protection personnel in conducting the checks. The agency also said it is working with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriff’s Association and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance to ensure its state partners have the necessary information to oversee safety.

Before the Sept. 6 action, Mexican carriers were limited to the so-called “commercial zone” — an area extending about 25 beyond the U.S.-Mexico border. The pilot program allows a select group of carriers to carry freight to and from locations throughout the United States. As prohibited by law, however, those carriers cannot haul freight from one point within the United States to another.

During the first 30 days, 17 trucking companies from Mexico will receive operating authority, FMCSA said. Through December, additional carriers will receive authority provided that they pass FMCSA’s inspection process and that the public is given an opportunity to comment. The program is limited to no more than 100 Mexican companies.

A week ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected an attempt by several groups, including the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and the Teamsters, to block the Mexican truck pilot program. This week, opponents stepped up their campaign with protests at the border and a news conference on Capitol Hill.

Along the U.S.-Mexico border, dozens of truckers protested the initiative during Teamster rallies at border crossings in San Diego and Laredo, Texas. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, joined U.S. Reps. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and James Oberstar, D-Minn., to urge the Senate to act immediately to stop the implementation of the program.

OOIDA filed a petition today, Sept. 7, asking for a review, and a stay on the program pending that review, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. OOIDA argues FMCSA did not follow congressional directives and legal requirements.

“We believe we have a strong case against what is being called a pilot program, but is actually a stealthily implemented, pre-ordained plan to fully open our highways to Mexican trucks,” Spencer says. “This is all done in the name of global economics and cheap labor.”

In July, the House passed its version of the transportation appropriations bill, which contained a provision to cut off funding for the pilot program during the coming fiscal year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Wednesday, Sept. 5, that the Senate will begin debate on the fiscal 2008 DOT appropriations bill next week.