Federal Update
The party no one is coming to: Cross-border trucking
Total number of inspections collected show lopsided participation

By Jami Jones, managing editor

It could be likened to the wildly promoted movie … that bombs. Lots of hoopla and hype leading up to it. Invitations are extended. The red carpet is rolled out. But the throngs of fans don’t show up.

That pretty much sums up the first two years of the long-haul cross-border trucking program with Mexico.

By the numbers
Through mid-August, the cross-border trucking program had 13 motor carriers from Mexico participating. Those motor carriers have registered 45 trucks and 43 drivers with the program.

According to operational and aggregate reports released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in 96 weeks the carriers had crossed the border 6,044 times.

One carrier, GCC Transportes, has crossed the border 3,469 times itself – accounting for 57 percent of the total pilot program crossings. A second carrier, STIL, has crossed the border 1,361 times, or 23 percent of all crossings. The two carriers account for 80 percent of all border crossings.

Before GCC was admitted into the program, the seven participating motor carriers up to that point had crossed the border only 186 times.

The same lopsided participation is revealed in the total number of inspections the participants have collected thus far. The 13 motor carriers had collectively been inspected 2,817 times through Aug. 18, according to FMCSA.

Once again GCC Transportes and STIL account for the lion’s share of inspections. STIL has been inspected 1,362 times and GCC has been inspected 947 times – a total of 2,309 inspections or 82 percent of the total inspections.

In the Federal Register that initially outlined the proposed program, the notice stated that the agency calculates that “a total of 46 carriers participating in the program will be sufficient to achieve a target of 4,100 inspections within three years.”

The agency doesn’t have a third of the motor carriers it estimated it needs in the program. Yet, it appears to be on target to get the 4,100 inspections.

If the agency sticks to the 4,100 inspections, STIL and GCC have amassed more than half of the inspections that FMCSA says it needs – and they did that in less than half of the time the program has been active.

Statistically speaking, according to the OOIDA Foundation, the performance of two motor carriers, regardless of the number of inspections, cannot be considered statistically valid to extrapolate how the universe of Mexico-based motor carriers would perform in long-haul operations in the U.S.

About those inspections
It’s hard to take the inspections at face value. Out of all the inspections for the cross-border program, only 50 trucks and/or drivers have been placed out of service. That puts the out-of-service rate for the cross-border participants at less than 2 percent.

A closer look at the vehicle out-of-service rates for all Mexico-domiciled motor carriers – both those in the cross-border program and the border zone motor carriers – could certainly raise eyebrows.

For fiscal year 2012 there were a total of 230,479 vehicle inspections with 718,139 violations. That resulted in a less than 6 percent vehicle out-of-service rate. Conversely U.S. based motor carriers had an 18 percent vehicle out-of-service rate.

That tracks with what proponents have put out in material promoting the cross-border program.

However, when comparing violation to violation between the two groups, it’s clear that U.S. motor carriers are put out-of-service far more often than Mexico-based motor carriers for the exact same violation.

For example when trucks from the U.S. were found with the violation of “No/improper breakaway or emergency braking” they were put OOS 95 percent of the time. But trucks from Mexico found with the very same violation were put out of service only 23 percent of the time.

Other examples of the inequitable enforcement are in areas such as the “brake – missing required brake” violation and the “improper fuel line protection” violation. In both cases Mexico-based motor carriers found with those violations were not put out of service – at all. Yet U.S. motor carriers had out-of-service rates of 43 percent and 5 percent respectively.

Very few of the violations reviewed by the OOIDA Foundation showed any equitable enforcement and even fewer where Mexico-domiciled motor carriers had a higher out-of-service rate.

What’s next
The pilot program established by FMCSA was set up to be a three-year test program to determine the viability of a permanent open border between the U.S. and Mexico for long-haul trucking. It is unclear if FMCSA will make a move to extend the pilot program or let it end at its original three-year deadline, which would be in October 2014.

Once concluded, the program is set up to be reviewed and analyzed before a permanent opening of the border to long-haul trucks from Mexico would be permitted.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association continues to closely monitor the pilot program, its participants and the enforcement by FMCSA. The Association sees shortcomings in all areas.

“The entire program is failing miserably,” said OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston. “There is no participation to speak of; it’s statistically insufficient; FMCSA is bending the regulations and easing enforcement left and right. It’s an insult to American truck drivers who are getting the job done and playing by the rules.

“The Association is continuing to pursue legal remedies and calling on Congress to prevent the agency from slapping a rubber stamp of approval on the program and opening the border to all long-haul trucks from Mexico.” LL