By Sandi Soendker
Currently, 700 Mexican motor carriers are seeking long-haul authority to operate about 4,000 vehicles on U.S. roads. But the latest word is still “mañana,” and well it should be. What a mess.
In order for cross-border trucking to be declared a “go,” certain pre-conditions are subject to annual review by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General until all gaps are closed. The OIG’s recent report states Mexican motor carriers shouldn’t be granted operating authority until “gaps” are resolved.
The audit, published Jan. 3, found the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has sufficient staff, facilities, equipment and procedures in place to “substantially” meet the provisions, but the gaps the report talks about are big enough to, well, drive millions of trucks – and buses – through.
The OIG’s report identified critical areas that will require attention now and in the future. For instance, federal law in Section 350 addresses on-site safety reviews for the 50 percent of Mexican motor carriers who want long-haul authority. Currently, there’s no such procedure in place. The report says “while Section 350 does not require that a specific agreement be in place before on-site reviews can be conducted, FMCSA officials state that the department’s leadership would like to establish an appropriate understanding with Mexico prior to sending FMCSA personnel into Mexico to conduct the reviews.” Good idea.
The audit also points out that effective monitoring of Mexican carriers depends on the quality of the information they give us for our databases, and right now, it stinks. And given the fact that U.S. companies don’t want to insure Mexican carriers, the insurance requirement is a total migraine, as is the drug testing. At this time, Mexico doesn’t even have a certified drug-testing lab.
Weigh-in-motion systems are required to be in place at the 10 highest-volume crossings. At the time of the OIG’s visit, WIMS were not working at four Texas inspection facilities.
In addition, the inspector general’s auditors are concerned with the states’ ability to deal with errant Mexican trucks. States are confused with what to do when they stop a Mexican truck that doesn’t have long-haul authority. For instance, the OIG report says in Florida, a state official said that they were not enforcing the authority because no one knows how to do it. A similar report came from Indiana.
Commercial vehicles, by definition, include trucks and buses, and the rules provide no specific guidance distinguishing between the two, although their operations are like day and night. The OIG’s report reveals the inspections for buses are a little scary, citing Nogales, AZ, where after 10 p.m., buses are permitted to use a border crossing away from the commercial crossing, one that is not staffed by FMCSA or state inspection personnel.
FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandberg didn’t seem to like the report much. She complained it was too broad in its criticisms, but responded dutifully that the agency was addressing all concerns.
While the audit hit hard on background checks and the absence of any such agreement with Mexico, Sandberg was quick to respond that the Transportation Security Administration was the lead agency for the background checks, and background checks had to do with the driver, not the motor carrier. Whoever has the lead, the issue is beyond huge.
The OIG’s report might have gone beyond what FMCSA deemed necessary, but it clearly calls attention to problems that have seriously concerned OOIDA and others in trucking from the day NAFTA was signed in 1992.
When going about the business of making radically diverse work forces interact safely and securely, it’s not enough just to have rules and plans and mandates in place. Those plans have to be workable at every level. The audit supports OOIDA’s frustration with the situational roadblocks that must be resolved before we have cross-border trucking in the real world.
For now, it gets the “still-not-doable” stamp.