Pilot program allows trucks from Mexico free travel through U.S.
Daily Mail Staff
Some of West Virginia’s representatives in Congress don’t want Mexican trucking companies hauling freight deep into the Mountain State, or other parts of the country for that matter. Starting in July, a one-year pilot program backed by the Bush administration would allow trucks from 100 Mexican firms to drive anywhere in the United States.
Congressman Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., said he hopes the plan comes to a dead end.
Mollohan, along with Congressman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., has cosponsored a House bill that puts limits on the program.
“This bill will put the brakes on an influx of poorly maintained and dangerous Mexican trucks onto U.S. highways,” Mollohan said.
“Safety issues like drug testing for drivers and limits on the number of hours a driver is allowed to operate a vehicle were not addressed in the administration’s pilot program,” he added. “I do not believe we should allow Mexican trucks in the U.S. beyond the 25-mile perimeter now allowed without addressing these issues. West Virginians don’t want to see those trucks rolling up I-79 all the way to Morgantown.”
Under the proposed bill, which could be up for vote as early as this week, the program would be terminated after three years. But if Mexican truckers were found to violate the law, the pilot program would immediately expire.
Opponents also want to create an independent panel to monitor the program.
The legislation requires that the trucks that would be permitted in the country must comply with 22 specific safety and security requirements outlined in the 2002 Department of Transportation Appropriations Act.
Those requirements include an increased number of border enforcement agents to inspect the trucks and also would impose rules about hours of service and alcohol and drug testing on Mexican drivers.
Mexico does not have laws regarding the number of hours truck drivers can spend on the road.
The bill’s sponsors say the Bush administration pushed the program without putting forth some of these safety requirements.
Right now, Mexican trucks can be driven only 25 miles into the country. If they go beyond those perimeters, the cargo must be switched onto an American carrier.
Mollohan spokesman Gerry Griffith said expanding those limits could hamper the West Virginia economy by allowing Mexican goods into the area to compete with the sale of domestic products.
“The congressman is alarmed by the pilot program,” Griffith said. “He doesn’t want unsafe trucks and these goods and products all over the West Virginia highways.”
The pilot program, administered by the federal Department of Transportation, also would allow U.S. trucks to haul freight freely into Mexico.
Griffith noted that the federal transportation department already has received more than 900 applications from Mexican companies hoping to haul in the states, while the number of U.S. trucks wanting to go south of the border remains slim.
“This allows the U.S. to go into Mexico, but the funny thing is, there aren’t many applications going into Mexico,” Griffith said.
The bill limiting the program originated in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, of which Rahall is a senior member.
This isn’t the first time the issue of free-roaming Mexican trucks has been raised.
In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement created a pilot program allowing Mexican companies to drive trucks further into the U.S., but Congress opposed the program, delaying it.
Mollohan voted against this NAFTA measure.
SOURCE: Charleston Daily Mail
Mexican Truck Welcome Muted
Despite the objections of organized labor, and other special interest groups in the U.S., it appears certain that one of the last impediments to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is about to be liftedâ€¦with conditions.
â€œItâ€™s about time Mexican truckers were provided with the free access to our market promised in the Agreement,â€ said Lorna Desmond, a San Diego-based freight forwarder.
â€œWe can only applaud the Bush Administration for finally making good on its word.â€
Trade and transport professionals across the border were equally pleased.
According to sources, as many as 100 trucking companies in Mexico were already lined up to begin moving freight during the year-long pilot program. Government officials were also jubilant.
â€œWe need to enter a new stage to make North America and Mexico competitive in the global marketplace,â€ stated Deputy Transport Minister, Manuel Rodriguez.
Up until now, no clear schedule had been established for the pilot program permitting free cross-border trucking. Mexican transport ministry spokesmen say that beginning in July as many as 25 trucking companies will be added to the program each month through 2008.
Labor union officials and other critics of the plan have hardly stopped efforts to slow its implementation, however.
The Teamsters, which represents 1.4 million U.S. and Canadian drivers, was instrumental in pushing ahead new limits.
In late April, the powerful union filed a lawsuit against the Transportation Department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in Californiaâ€™s federal court.
As a consequence, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Washington, DC, voted unanimously to establish benchmarks for safe operation of the trucks and oversight of the program.
â€œThe pilot program has holes in it you could drive a truck through,â€ declared Teamsters President James P. (Jim) Hoffa (right).
â€œNowhere does the Bush administration state that every truck must be physically inspected before being allowed to travel freely throughout the U.S.
â€œNowhere does it describe what criteria will be used to judge the program a failure or a success.â€
Thanks to pending legislation, however, that may be changed.
â€œThe original bill was introduced last month by Rep. Nancy Boyda of Kansas, but was amended and broadened in Mayâ€™s markup by a managerâ€™s amendment offered by Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (Ore.).
It sets out a number of safety issues that must be satisfied before the program can begin, and sets up an independent review panel to oversee the program.
That oversight will then be communicated to the Department of Transportationâ€™s Inspector General, and to Congress.
â€œThis bill will require that Mexican drivers and trucks meet the strict safety standards for a pilot program, and will allow the oversight panel to modify or terminate the program at any time that they determine the safety of the public has been put in jeopardy,â€ said DeFazio. â€œLaunching this pilot program without safeguards to ensure compliance with U.S. safety laws would have been a recipe for disaster on our roads.â€
The Teamsters were hardly pacified by this development, though. Hoffa accused the Bush administration of â€œignoring the American people in its zeal to open our borders to unsafe Mexican trucks,â€ and continued to demand this â€œrecklessâ€ program been stopped to protect U.S. motorists.
SOURCE: Air Cargo News