SPECIAL REPORT: Feds to publish cross-border program ‘description’

| 4/30/2007

Monday, April 30, 2007 – A description of the Bush administration’s proposed cross-border program is set to be unveiled in the Federal Register.

According to a copy obtained by Land Line of a notice and request for comments to be published in theFederal Register, the public will see a description of the cross-border program and have a chance to comment on it.

What the notice and request for comment doesn’t say is whether the program will be put on hold during the comment period. Calls from Land Line and “Land Line Now” inquiring about a possible delay were not returned.

On Feb. 22, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters announced that U.S. officials would be inspecting the Mexican motor carriers in Mexico.

Shortly after Peters announced the inspection program, officials at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association learned that a program opening the border to Mexican motor carriers was moving full-steam ahead, and that 100 Mexico-domiciled companies were going to be allowed to operate freely within the U.S. in about 60 days – roughly the end of April.

That information was confirmed when Peters spoke at a press conference on Feb. 23 in El Paso, TX.

Since it was announced, the program has been taking shots from all sides. The U.S. Department of Transportation has two lawsuits pending against it – one seeking more information and another seeking an injunction. OOIDA is a named plaintiff in the latter. Lawmakers have introduced two stand-alone bills and one amendment attempting to slow down the rush to open the border. Another lawmaker has called for an inquiry.

In what some could see as a move to quiet the voices of opposition and smooth ruffled feathers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s notice and request for comments was filed with the Federal RegisterMonday morning.

“There’s no doubt in my mind the administration has taken this step is because of the tremendous public uproar over this,” Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said.

Industry insiders speculate the notice could be published Tuesday, May 1.

While the notice lays out a description of the program, the application and approval process and some training that has developed for enforcement of the program, it may not go far enough to satisfy the opposition to the program.

Section 350 of the 2002 transportation appropriations act is briefly mentioned. That has been a colossal stumbling point for cross-border movement up until the most recent push by the Bush administration. That is, up until former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta said all parts of Section 350 were satisfied.

The impending notice does not describe in detail how all of the criteria for opening the border in Section 350 have been met by the DOT.

Pilot programs are also subject to restrictions outlined in Title 49 regulations. Those regulations are not mentioned in the notice. The program’s compliance with those regulations isn’t mentioned, either.

However, the notice will give some idea of how big the program will be. The notice states that 70 percent of the applicants operate 20 or fewer trucks. About 25 percent operate between 21 and 100 trucks. The final 5 percent operate 100 or more trucks.

If those numbers hold true with authority approval, the cross-border program could see around 4,000 or so trucks as part of the program – more than the number of trucks in either the Celadon or Covenant fleets, for example.

Beyond what has been learned to date, new information in the notice is scarce.

“From our cursory read, we still think their request for comments will come up well short of what’s required for a pilot program and what Congress should be demanding from the administration in terms of justifying what they’re trying to do,” Spencer said.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor