FMCSA’s Mexico program out of fuel, but still rolling

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s cross-border pilot program seemingly saw its final demise – at least for the current fiscal year – as President Bush on Wednesday, Dec. 26, signed a so-called omnibus appropriations bill (H.R. 2764) that wrapped together funding for the entire federal government except for the Department of Defense, which already was funded under separate legislation.

The compromise funding bill that Congress sent to President Bush on Dec. 19 – which passed the House on Dec. 17 and the Senate on Dec. 18 – included a prohibition denying funds “to establish a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program to allow Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones along the international border between the United States and Mexico.”

However, FMCSA said the current cross-border pilot project will continue despite the funding ban, saying the language in the appropriations bill prohibiting funds “to establish” a program doesn’t apply to the program already in place. “In accordance with the 2008 omnibus appropriations act, the U.S. Department of Transportation will not establish any new demonstration programs with Mexico,” FMCSA said in its prepared statement. “The current cross-border trucking demonstration project – established in September – will continue to operate.”

The cross-border program, which has been in place since Sept. 6, allows a limited number of Mexican trucking companies to operate beyond the 25-mile commercial zone in the United States. Under a reciprocity agreement with Mexico, the one-year pilot program also allows a limited number of U.S. carriers to operate into Mexico.

FMCSA announced today, Dec. 27, that so far it has granted authority to 11 Mexican carriers to operate a total of 56 trucks in the United States under the program, and that four U.S. carriers have been allowed to operate a total of 41 trucks in Mexico. FMCSA had notified an additional 37 Mexican carriers that they had successfully passed a pre-authorization safety audit.

Bret Caldwell, a Teamsters spokesman in Washington, told Bloomberg News that the Bush administration’s plan to continue the program is “directly in violation with the new law. … For them to suggest otherwise is really spitting in the face of Congress.”