Cross-border trucking pilot program coming to an end: What’s next?

Updated Oct 6, 2014

mexicoUntitled-1The U.S.-Mexico cross-border trucking pilot program is set to expire Oct. 14, and federal officials have said little about the future or next steps of cross-border trucking between the two countries.

The program also fell well below the participation level federal officials said would be needed to gauge the program’s success and the safety of Mexican carriers operating outside of the border zone.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration formally began the three-year program when it granted authority to Transportes Olympic on Oct. 14, 2011. FMCSA officials had said the program would require at least 4,100 inspections of 46 carriers to make statistically valid analysis and projections regarding safety.

The agency met its target number of inspections — hitting 5,455, as of Sept. 21 — but just 13 carriers are currently participating.

What’s more, of the 54 drivers and 55 trucks authorized to operate in the U.S., one carrier — Servicio de Transporte Internacional y Local — accounted for 55 percent of the inspections (3,027), while another participant, GCC Transportes, accounted for 25 percent of the inspections (1,375).

FMCSA says it’s reviewing the data “ with the goal of developing a path forward to ensure safety on our highways while continuing to fulfill our NAFTA obligations.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association told the agency Oct. 1 that that this data casts doubt as to whether it has met its congressional mandate to gather sufficient data and participation to draw safety conclusions. Also, 83 percent of miles traveled by participants have been within the border zone, the association added.

“What is most alarming is that according to inspection data, Mexican trucks and/or drivers are not being placed out-of-service for violations that would warrant such action nor are they being placed out of service at the same rate as U.S.-domiciled trucks and/or drivers for similar violations,” OOIDA wrote.

Participation issues were also mentioned in a first-year report from the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General. Congress requires these IG reports, with the final one due by mid-April. Also, the DOT is mandated to report “findings, conclusions, and recommendations” to Congress at the program’s end.

Under the program, FMCSA has authority to convert the permanent authority it granted to four participants to standard permanent authority at the program’s end. The remaining participants hold provisional authority, which will revert to being restricted to the border zone.

The 2011 agreement between the two nations — as well as the previous program — stipulated that Mexico provide reciprocal authority for U.S. carriers. Ten U.S. carriers participated in the 2007 program, and they were allowed to continue operation in Mexico after the United States terminated that program in 2009.

A Jan. 3 congressional report noted that the most recent FMCSA reciprocity data was from when the program was announced. In April 2011, four of the 10 carriers still operated in Mexico. Most U.S. trucking firms offering services there do through a partnership with a Mexican trucking company, the report said.

While the agency’s current program costs are unclear, a June 2010 congressional report offered some measure of expense. By March 2008, the FMCSA had estimated ensuring Mexican truck safety cost more than $500 million, after the first Mexican carrier crossed the border September 2007.