One hundred Mexican trucking companies will have unlimited access to U.S. roads to haul international cargo as part of a year-long pilot program, the Department of Transportation announced today
In return, 100 U.S. trucking companies will be allowed to operate in Mexico but at a later date.
Calling for congressional hearings, Teamsters General President Jimmy Hoffa compared the announcement to the “Dubai Ports debacle,” charging President Bush is “playing a game of Russian roulette on America’s highways.”
As WND previously reported, the Teamsters Union has strongly protested the opening up of U.S. highways to Mexican trucks, citing safety concerns.
A spokesman for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies, told WND the senator plans to hold hearings March 8 on the DOT pilot program.
A statement from Murray’s office said she wants “to find out if the administration has really met the safety requirements that the law and the American people demand before long-haul Mexican trucks can travel across all our highways.”
A spokeman from the office of Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, told WND hearings will most likely be held by Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, chaired by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.
Both Oberstar and DeFazio are traveling today and a spokesman from Oberstar’s office said the lawmakers have not had a chance yet to confer, so no hearings have yet been scheduled.
Todd Spencer, spokesman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told WND that “to reach a conclusion that the safety regime in Mexico is compatible in any way, shape, or form with what we have here in the U.S. is ignoring reality. Mexico has never had hours-in-service regulations or drug testing of drivers. We still can’t verify the accuracy of somebody’s Commercial Driver’s License in Mexico for safety or compliance.”
Spencer stressed the decision is not just a border decision.
“Once Mexican trucks are in the United States on this pilot program, they can operate everywhere in the U.S.,” Spencer told WND. “If some state highway policeman in Vermont or Iowa stops a Mexican commercial truck in their state, they have absolutely no idea of deciding if that vehicle is in compliance with federal safety requirements. Who’s going to provide the training or the equipment for state police to verify the legality of a commercial truck from Mexico, in terms of its cargo, its haul, its log book, or even the driver? Local police aren’t going to have a clue.”
Hoffa cited Mexico’s inability to satisfy the DOT Inspector General’s requirements for safety that have been mandated to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA.
WND previously reported applications of some 678 Mexican motor carriers seeking long-haul authority to operate about 4,000 vehicles was being held up pending the completed DOT Inspector General’s review of proposed FMCSA rules regarding safety reviews for Mexican trucks seeking to operate in the U.S., including rules for on-site safety inspections in Mexico.
The DOT spokesman also affirmed to WND the FMCSA has now drafted regulations that the DOT Inspector General has accepted, after an audit of the enforcement mechanisms and regulations the FMCSA created.
The Teamsters Union posed to WND a series of “unanswered questions,” including:
- Will the drivers be checked against the terror watch list, or will our borders be open to anyone with a Mexican driver’s license?
- Will the drivers be required to carry a Mexican passport as U.S. citizens are required to present their passports when entering the country from Mexico?
- Will all U.S. standards be applied to Mexican drivers, including the requirement that U.S. drivers undergo regular physicals and meet minimum age requirements?
- Will Mexican truck drivers participating in the pilot program be required to undergo drug and alcohol testing in U.S. labs? Who will oversee the collection of random samples for drug and alcohol testing of the Mexican drivers while they are in the U.S.?
- Will U.S. wage and hour laws be enforced for Mexican drivers during the pilot program? How will DOT enforce hours of service rules and prevent false log books and fatigued drivers from entering the U.S.?
- How can DOT assure the U.S. public that all trucks will be inspected by U.S. officials in Mexico and at the U.S. border when fewer that 10 percent of all Mexican trucks entering the commercial zone are inspected today?
According to a DOT spokesman, the pilot program “is predicated on the notion that Mexican trucks operating in the U.S. under the pilot program will operate pursuant to every single requirement that pertains to U.S. trucks operating in the United States, including both safety and security requirements on both the state and federal level.”
DOT has increased its inspection staff by some 270 inspectors to implement the program. Still, DOT plans to continue the on-site inspection activities in Mexico that were announced by DOT Secretary Mary Peters earlier this week in Monterrey, Mexico.
The DOT spokesman confirmed there is no limit to the number of trucks the 100 Mexican trucking companies can operate in the United States. There is no restriction on the roads within the United States that the Mexican trucks can travel once they are admitted in the pilot program at the border.
The Mexican trucks, however, will be limited to carrying international cargo, in that they will be prohibited from stopping at one point in the U.S. destined for another point within the country.
On their return home, Mexican trucks, however, will be allowed to pick up in U.S. cargo originating in the U.S. destined for delivery back to Mexico.
While in the U.S., the Mexican drivers will operate under U.S. rules and regulations, including those controlling hours of time allowed at the wheel without a break.
The DOT spokesman specified that under agreements with Mexico already in effect, Mexican and U.S. commercial driver’s licenses will be consider equivalent during the pilot program.
Mexican trucks operating in the United States will be required to have U.S. insurance coverage for all liabilities, including traffic accidents.
“The intent is for the Mexican trucking operations in the U.S. to be indistinguishable from U.S. trucking operations,” the DOT spokesperson affirmed, “except that the driver and the truck began their trip in Mexico.”
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