Cross-border program off to slow – but permanent – start with Transportes Olympic

By Jami Jones, senior editor

It’s anything but the Oklahoma “sooner” land rush of 1889. Instead of seeing a rush for the border by Mexican motor carriers wanting to stake their claim and operate long-haul in the U.S., the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is only getting a few tire kickers.

But the one and only company approved for the pilot program, as of press time, was granted permanent operating authority from the start.

Transportes Olympic was granted permanent operating authority by FMCSA when the agency admitted the carrier into the pilot program.

“It goes to show how much of a joke this so-called pilot program actually is. Our government should be ashamed,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.

The issue of granting permanent authority has drawn criticism since DOT Secretary Ray LaHood first signed the memorandum of understanding that governs the pilot program.

LaHood agreed to grant permanent authority after 18 months of cross-border, long-haul trucking. He further agreed to credit Mexican motor carriers with the time they were participants in the previous cross-border demonstration program.

The memorandum of understanding outlines what that means for Mexican motor carriers granted the permanent authority.

The memorandum states the “permanent operating authority cannot be suspended or revoked unless the motor carrier receives an unsatisfactory safety rating pursuant to U.S. laws and regulations.”

The memorandum also states that Mexican motor carriers with permanent operating authority may convert to standard permanent operating authority “upon termination or conclusion of the initial phase (pilot program).”

Of additional concern to OOIDA is Transportes Olympic’s documented suspect safety history, containing violations that would result in a new entrant U.S. motor carrier having its authority revoked.

In addition to a number of other violations, according to a 2009 compliance review Transportes Olympic violated a subsection of 383.305, random testing. That, according to the FMCSA’s list of the industry-dubbed “16 deadly sins” for new entrants, would be an automatic failure for U.S. companies getting their authority to operate for the first time.

“They simply are not holding Transportes Olympic to the same standards they require of U.S.-based carriers,” Spencer said.

Transportes Olympic isn’t the only motor carrier with violations that OOIDA has challenged FMCSA’s oversight on. A second applicant that has passed the pre-authority safety audit, Grupo Behr, also has a checkered past, which OOIDA highlighted in comments filed with FMCSA about the motor carrier.

In spite of FMCSA staffers’ refusal to disclose documents that should have been public regarding Grupo Behr, OOIDA was able to use public information to call into question the roadworthiness of trucks the company intended to use and the company’s CSA compliance scores.

Those challenges, in addition to similar concerns raised by other groups, prompted FMCSA to delay granting Grupo Behr access and to further review the motor carrier. At press time, Grupo Behr’s authority status remained in limbo.

“With just the first two motor carriers, we’re seeing a very disturbing trend of lax oversight on the part of the DOT starting to develop,” Spencer said. “The agency must stop ramrodding this program through and start doing their jobs.”

By mid-November, 13 more companies had applications pending for admission into the cross-border program.

Five of the 13 companies have current CSA scores that have them listed in “alert” status in at least one of the Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category, or BASIC, areas under CSA. That means those motor carriers potentially face interventions, or enforcement action, from FMCSA even as they apply for long-haul access.

Companies such as Transportes Unimex and Servicio de Transporte Internacional both have a score of 100 in the Driver Fitness BASIC. A third company, Alfredo Herandez Rojas comes in with a 99.3 in the Driver Fitness category and 95.5 in the Vehicle Maintenance category.

Three more of the companies, while they have authority to operate in border zones, do not have any inspection history under CSA. Four more of the companies don’t have authority to operate in the U.S. at all and subsequently do not have inspection history under CSA.

One of the companies with a pending application is Trinity Industries. This was the motor carrier whose inspection history was detailed in a lawsuit filed by OOIDA to stop the previous demonstration program. The motor carrier dropped out of the program shortly after the suit was filed.

OOIDA has filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the program. That case is expected to begin moving forward in December 2011. LL