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12/19/2007
SPECIAL REPORT: Mexican truckers planning to block border

Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2007 – The long list of opponents to the cross-border trucking program isn’t exclusively made up of groups and truckers in the United States. Motor carriers in Mexico are waging their own fight to shut down the program.

In fact, the Mexican National Truck Drivers Federation is planning to block the border between Mexico and the United States in January 2008 if the program doesn’t come to an end. The threat to block the border was reported in the Mexican newspaper El Financiero.

The union of truckers is upset with the Mexican government for allowing U.S. trucks and truckers into their country.

“It is irresponsible of the Mexican Government, of Felipe Calderon, to allow the interests of a powerful 2 percent of people in the Mexican economy to hand Mexican trucking over to the Americans,” Elias Dip Rame, president of the Mexican National Truck Drivers Federation, told El Financiero.

According to the translated article, the federation has approximately 200,000 members who Dip Rame says will clog the border, effectively shutting down all cross-border traffic. The leader of the Federation cautioned authorities in Mexico to remember the strength of his organization.

As an example, Dip Rame pointed out that in early November it was only 100 trucks that blocked the road in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, preventing 3,000 truckers and vehicles from crossing into the United States, according to the El Financiero report.

OIG begins audit of program
The Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General initiated an audit of the one-year cross-border “demonstration” project, also referred to as a pilot program, with Mexico.

The audit is required by a provision in the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007 that was signed into law in July.

The specific objectives for the audit will be to determine whether:

  1. The secretary of transportation has established sufficient mechanisms to determine whether the demonstration project is adversely affecting motor carrier safety;
  2. Federal and state monitoring and enforcement activities are sufficient to ensure that participants in the demonstration project are complying with all applicable laws and regulations; and
  3. The demonstration project consists of a representative and adequate sample of Mexico-domiciled carriers that are likely to engage in cross-border operations beyond the United States municipalities and commercial zones on the United States-Mexico border.

The inspector must submit an interim report to Congress and to the secretary of transportation six months after the program begins. A final report is also required 60 days after the program is completed.

The cross-border program with Mexico began in early September. There are currently 10 Mexico-based motor carriers operating more than 50 trucks in the U.S.

Questions still plague the program
The safety records of some of those trucking companies have been called into question by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association based on information from FMCSA’s own databases.

Monday, Dec. 3, the Association filed a brief in its challenge of the cross-border program with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco.

In the brief, Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs, dissects data from FMCSA’s own SafeStat database, which was collected and analyzed by OOIDA staff and a paralegal at The Cullen Law Firm, OOIDA’s legal counsel.

Safety inspection reports were collected on four of the seven carriers participating in the cross-border program at the time the brief was filed.

“My review of those inspection reports revealed patterns of unsafe operations by Mexico-domiciled motor carriers in the border areas of the United States,” Craig testified in a declaration filed with the reply brief.

Catherine O’Mara, a paralegal with The Cullen Law Firm of Washington, DC, compiled the safety inspection reports on the Mexican motor carriers and a summary of selected SafeStat data, which shines a light on Craig’s assertion.

O’Mara provided a table summarizing total inspections with violations, total violations, driver out-of-service orders, vehicle out-of-service orders, number of power units and the number of violations per vehicle.

In the span of one year, Sept. 21, 2006, through Sept. 21, 2007, the four Mexican motor carriers amassed more than 1,700 violations. One of the companies averaged more than 112 violations per truck for the 10 power units in its fleet during that year.

“I observe that these motor carriers also received many violations for which an out-of-service order should have been issued, but was not,” Craig testified.

Examples included violations related to lighting, suspension, tires and all other driver violations, such as a non-English speaking driver.

Craig also noted there were numerous other violations that could have been the basis for an out-of-service order, but the inspection report does not provide enough information to make that determination.

Examples included violations related to brakes and inspection or repair and maintenance of parts and accessories.

Legal challenge ongoing
OOIDA’s legal challenge of the cross-border program continues in the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco.

The lawsuit filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association challenging the cross-border program is moving forward in the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Initially, OOIDA filed its challenge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The suit also requested an emergency stay of the cross-border program.

The DC court denied the request for the stay, but did not rule whatsoever on the merits of the Association’s case.

OOIDA isn’t the only group with a case challenging the cross-border program. The Sierra Club is also challenging the program. That group filed its case in the 9th Circuit in California.

Once the DC Circuit ruled on OOIDA’s request for the emergency stay, it assigned the case to a Judicial Panel of Multidistrict Litigation to decide what Court of Appeals would hear the two cases.

OOIDA’s legal team filed a motion on Sept. 28 supporting a transfer of the case to the 9th Circuit.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor
jami_jones@landlinemag.com

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