Cover Story
Way past a pilot program
DOT forges ahead with cross-border plan that includes opportunity for permanent authority for Mexican trucks

By Jami Jones, senior editor

Despite unified calls from the trucking industry, members of Congress, safety groups and highway users opposing opening the border to long-haul trucks from Mexico, the Obama administration revealed its plan in early April to forge ahead with opening the border.

The plan is to implement a three-stage program. Once a company from Mexico has operated in the U.S. for 18 months and passes a compliance review, that motor carrier will be granted permanent authority. That means even if the pilot program were shut down, any motor carrier with permanent authority would be allowed to continue operating long-haul in the U.S.

The plan is also to give Mexican motor carriers that participated in the previous pilot program “credit” for the time they operated in the U.S. So, if a company completed 12 months in the previous program, they could theoretically get permanent operating authority after just six more months.

In the first stage of the program, each truck participating in the program will be inspected each time it enters the U.S. However, the plan is for licenses to be checked only 50 percent of the time.

The plan also confirms that trucks from Mexico will be equipped with GPS or electronic on-board recorders – paid for by the DOT.

“This plan is irresponsible and reckless,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA. “They need to stop placating Mexico’s government and start fighting for the Americans they are supposed to represent.”

Spencer pointed out that U.S. trucking companies and truck drivers must contend with ever-increasing safety, homeland security and environmental regulations that dramatically affect their costs of operation as well as their ability to make a living at their chosen profession. Mexico does not have a regulatory system for drivers that is remotely equivalent to the U.S.

“The onus is on Mexico to raise the safety, security and environmental standards for their trucking industry,” added Spencer. “We should not allow ourselves to be harassed or blackmailed into lowering ours.”

Mexico first imposed retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports close to two years ago. OOIDA contends the legality of the original tariffs should have been challenged.

Spencer noted, “Succumbing to Mexico’s bullying provides a handy attack plan for them and other governments in future trade disputes.” 

Despite the tariffs, based on numbers released by the U.S. Department of Transportation in March 2011, truck-based trade with Mexico surged by 27.6 percent last year to a total of $320.3 billion, and the bulk of this increase was from U.S. goods going to Mexico. 

“This is the wrong plan at the wrong time for numerous reasons,” said Spencer.

“The administration must reconsider or Congress has to step in again to force the DOT to do the right thing. If they follow through with this, the administration will be jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions of Americans.”

The tariffs placed on U.S. products by Mexico will be reduced by 50 percent when a final agreement is signed. The DOT fact sheet estimates that will be in about 60 days. The remaining 50 percent will be removed when the first Mexican company receives its operating authority to run long-haul in the U.S.

The notice officially published in the Federal Register on April 13. The public will have 30 days to comment, with comments due by May 13.

It’s the DOT’s plan to post a second Federal Register notice addressing comments received and describing the final project.

“It is anticipated it would take about 30 days to respond to the public comments and finalize and publish the program notice,” according to a FAQ fact sheet released by the DOT. LL