San Diego Union Tribune

May 1, 2007

Mexican truckers program postponed

Congress seeks to delay free access to U.S. roads

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – Federal transportation officials announced yesterday they would delay opening U.S. highways to Mexican long-haul trucks until Mexico opens its borders to U.S. carriers.


 

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The announcement followed congressional pressure for the government to delay a one-year project to demonstrate that Mexican trucks can operate safely in the United States.

Under the plan, U.S. officials had expected to allow Mexican carriers free travel north of the border by early this month. Current rules allow Mexican truck drivers to go no farther than 25 miles inside the country. U.S. trucks would have been able to travel throughout Mexico within six months of the program's start.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters issued a statement yesterday saying U.S. trucks “will begin operating in Mexico for the first time ever starting at the same time Mexican trucks” begin free travel in the United States.

The Mexican government did not have any comment yesterday, leaving it unclear when Mexico might allow U.S. trucks to travel freely on its highways, clearing the way to begin the one-year trial project. A U.S. official said the Mexican government had agreed to accelerate the approval of U.S. trucks.

Online: For more about the trial truck project and how to send your comments to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration before June 1, go to www.fmcsa.dot.gov., look for the April 30 “New at FMCSA: Demonstration Project on NAFTA Trucking Provisions” and click through to a page for Docket No. FMCSA-2007-28055, then click to view full text or PDF version.

The project is seen as a precursor to a permanent opening of the U.S.-Mexican border to truck traffic both ways, something called for in the North American Free Trade Agreement. The opening has been delayed since 1995 by congressional action and lawsuits.

Explaining what appears to be a case of the administration bowing to congressional pressure, Peters said the plan was modified “based on” recent conversations with congressional critics and the Mexican government.

While hundreds of Mexican carriers had applied to participate in the experiment, far fewer U.S. companies expressed interest in operating in Mexico, officials said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who sponsored legislation to delay the program, called the announcement “good news.”

“I was disturbed to learn earlier this year that Mexican truckers would have started the program a full six months before American truckers would have gained access to Mexico,” she said.

House Transportation Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., also lauded the delay, which he said would “provide Congress with an opportunity to evaluate the proposal and its impacts on safety and on commerce.”

He said the committee would still consider legislation tomorrow to add further restrictions to the Mexican trucking program.

The Teamsters Union, a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed last week seeking to require the program to comply with more restrictive federal rules, remains opposed to the program.

“No one should be reassured by the Bush administration's temporary delay in opening our borders to unsafe Mexican trucks,” Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said. “We will continue to fight this reckless pilot project.”

Another party to the lawsuit, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, also was critical.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the association, said U.S. officials have failed to show that the Mexican government has systems in place to protect the public – including drug testing for drivers and limits on driving hours.

“These systems that our government has said are vital to assuring safety and security – for trucks and highway users – simply don't exist in Mexico,” he said.

U.S. officials say they have put in place stringent safeguards to ensure public safety, including safety audits of Mexican carriers conducted by U.S. inspectors.

Under the program, Mexican trucks will have to comply with all rules followed by U.S. carriers, including holding a valid commercial driver's license, complying with U.S. medical requirements and being able to understand questions and directions in English.

The government will publish additional details of the program in the Federal Register, an official record, today and is seeking public comment over the next 30 days.

 

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