OOIDA questions agency's plan for failed cross-border pilot program

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 10/1/2014

With the upcoming three-year anniversary, and originally scheduled conclusion, of the long-haul cross-border pilot program with Mexico, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association wants the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration leadership to explain what the agency plans to do next.

The Association wrote a letter to FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling on Oct. 1 – as the three-year anniversary of the pilot program and what is supposed to be the expiration of the program approaches.

“OOIDA continues to have a number of concerns with the pilot program, ranging from FMCSA’s operation of the pilot and how the agency is evaluating data generated through the pilot. The expiration of the pilot makes clarity on these issues more pressing, especially as FMCSA has not outlined what steps it will be taking moving forward,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer wrote to Darling.

Spencer details shortcomings in participation that have led to skewed data, which ultimately does not accurately reflect the broader truck fleet that would be able to travel long haul in the U.S. if the border was opened permanently.

The letter states that before the program launched, FMCSA estimated that in order to have a statistically valid pilot program, they were would need 46 Mexico-based motor carriers participating the program. At the end of the three years, only 13 motor carriers from Mexico were participants.

Two of the 13 carriers were solely responsible for more than 81 percent of all inspections and 90 percent of all crossings, Spencer points out in the letter.

“This information casts significant doubt on the pilot program’s ability to meet congressional requirements for statistical validity,” Spencer wrote. “It is OOIDA’s view that because most of the inspection data collected comes from just a few carriers, the data is biased and does not accurately reflect the safety performance of trucks in the pilot, much less the broader Mexican truck fleet.”

The Association also calls into question the quality of enforcement participants in the cross-border program faced.

“Mexican trucks and/or drivers are not being placed out-of-service for violations that would warrant such action nor are they being placed out of service at the same rate as U.S.-domiciled trucks and/or drivers for similar violation,” Spencer wrote. “This disparity in enforcement action raises safety concerns in general, but especially about the pilot program.”

The ultimate point of the pilot program was to determine whether motor carriers based in Mexico could safely navigate long-haul runs in the United States.

Given that 83 percent of all miles traveled during the pilot program were within the commercial border zone – where it’s already legal for Mexico-based motor carriers to operate – and only 5 percent were traveled outside of that zone, Spencer said the program falls short of the legal standard that the program had to meet.

The statutory standards call for the pilot program to consist of “a representative and adequate sample of Mexico-domiciled carriers likely to engage in cross-border operations beyond United States municipalities and commercial zones on the United States-Mexico border.”

In spite of these shortcomings, Spencer said at a recent Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee meeting, agency representatives gave the impression that the program was a success and that the agency hopes to either extend it or make it permanent.

Countering that line of thinking, Spencer asks Darling a series of questions that the Association is hopeful will lead to the conclusion that the program was a failure.

“We believe if they are fully forthcoming, they have to reach the same conclusion that any outside observer would have, that the pilot program hasn’t been successful,” Spencer told Land Line.

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