Mary Peters sworn in as DOT secretary in October

Seeking to deflect growing criticism, the Department of Transportation made two surprise statements late yesterday, announcing modifications to its plan allowing 100 Mexican trucking companies to run their long-haul rigs throughout the U.S.

Responding to trucking industry criticism that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, was not merely conducting a test but implementing a permanent program without public comment, the FMCSA for the first time posted to the Federal Register a proposed set of “demonstration project” rules.

Also amid criticism Mexico had not opened up its own road to U.S. trucks, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters announced in a DOT statement issued late yesterday that U.S. trucks will be allowed to operate in Mexico at the start of the demonstration project.

As WND previously reported, when the Mexican truck pilot project initially was introduced by Peters Feb. 23, the test was entirely one-way. Mexican trucks from 100 Mexican trucking companies were to be given free access to the U.S., but at that time, Mexico had not agreed to open up to U.S. trucks.

In the statement issued late yesterday, Peters commented that this important change resulted from “recent conversations with the Mexican government and Congress.”

WND learned early yesterday from trucking industry insiders that DOT and FMCSA administration were planning to make the announcements.

Despite multiple phone calls, both DOT and FMCSA did not respond to WND for comment.

At the close of business yesterday, WND obtained from industry insiders a copy of the FMCSA notice to be filed in the Federal Register.

Late yesterday, the FMCSA website posted the FMCSA notice, with a publication date of today.

Among the evident changes between the initial Feb. 23 pilot test announcement and publication of the FMCSA notice is that now FMCSA is calling the Mexican truck experiment a “demonstration project” rather than a “pilot test.”

Trucking industry insiders tell WND this subtle change was necessary for FMCSA to deflect industry criticism that it had failed to adhere to strict federal guidelines for conducting “pilot programs.”

The FMCSA notice states for the first time that the “demonstration project” is scheduled to last for one year only.

The notice states DOT will “evaluate the success of the demonstration project by examining the safety performance of Mexico-domiciled motor carriers operating in the U.S.”

No other criteria, such as impact on U.S. truckers or the U.S. trucking industry, are mentioned as necessary for evaluating success.

The notice states “FMCSA anticipates examining the crash rate of Mexican carriers, convictions of Mexican drivers for violations of U.S. traffic safety laws, the rate at which Mexican drivers and vehicles are placed out of service when inspected in the U.S., violations discovered during pre-authority safety audits, and compliance of Mexican trucking companies with U.S. drug and alcohol testing requirements.”

While the FMCSA notice mentions many additional program requirements – including compliance with state and federal environmental and emission regulations; and valid U.S. insurance – they were not listed as criteria in determining the demonstration project’s success.

Trucking industry officials told WND their immediate reaction to the surprise announcements yesterday by DOT and FMCSA was that both agencies were scurrying to meet the unanticipated furor of industry and public outcry at the hurriedly put-together Feb. 23 announcement of the original “pilot test” idea.

When Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced Peters’ nomination to the Senate Commerce committee Sept. 20, 2006, not a word was said about any prospective Mexican truck pilot program to be launched imminently. Nor was the Mexican truck pilot test mentioned by Peters in her Senate confirmation hearings later that month.

Just prior to Peters’ confirmation hearings, Ian Grossman, then FMCSA spokesman, told WND there were no current plans in the agency to implement the Mexican truck pilot test.

Trucking industry spokesmen told WND the decision to force the Mexican truck pilot test was pushed by the White House after Peters was confirmed, and both DOT and FMCSA are still scrambling to get the program defined.

Despite today’s announcements, industry insiders expect protest from professional truckers and the public to intensify as the date draws near for the first Mexican trucks to roll on U.S. roads beyond the previous 20-mile commercial limit.

WND previously reported considerable opposition has been expressed within Mexico to allowing U.S. trucks open access to Mexican roads.

WND also has reported FMCSA intends to approve the first Mexican trucks no later than early May, despite considerable opposition within Congress.

Previous stories:

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.