San Diego Union Tribune

September 28, 2007

Qualcomm gets hitched up

Chip maker has favored satellite system to monitor cross-border trucks

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE


 
Union-Tribune
Driver David López (right) with Mexican trucking company owner Rafael Godínez, who hopes to have trucks on U.S. highways.

WASHINGTON – U.S. and Mexican transportation officials are planning to use a satellite-based vehicle tracking system from Qualcomm to keep an eye on commercial carriers from both countries participating in a cross-border trucking experiment.

San Diego-based Qualcomm is favored to get the contract for the project, because the chip-making giant is viewed as the only company that can provide the needed services, U.S. transportation officials said yesterday.

The officials said other firms that believe they can meet the project requirements have until Oct. 12 to contact the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Qualcomm did not return phone calls yesterday seeking information on the tracking system. Its Omnitracs system uses cellular technology to track mostly long-haul tractor-trailers.

U.S. government officials said every truck participating in the controversial pilot project will be tracked through in-vehicle transponders linked to a global positioning system that will monitor the transit of Mexican trucks through the United States and U.S. trucks through Mexico.

The system could be up and running within weeks after a contract is signed next month, said Melissa Mazzella DeLaney, spokeswoman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

“This will give us the ability to monitor every vehicle from Mexico and ensure all companies are following our strict safety requirements,” FMCSA Administrator John Hill said in a statement.

The one-year program to test the safety and effectiveness of cross-border trucking, which began earlier this month, allows preapproved U.S. and Mexican trucks to travel freely beyond the border zone in each country.


 

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Opponents of the program, including the Teamsters and several trucking and safety organizations, contend Mexican trucking companies do not meet U.S. safety standards for equipment and drivers and will take jobs away from Americans.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association, an opponent of the program, called the tracking system a sham.

“We kind of liken it to putting hoop earrings on a pig,” he said.

Spencer said tracking vehicles would not reveal whether they were following U.S. regulations or operating safely.

Transportation officials said the system would be able to accurately determine a vehicle's position and monitor whether drivers were complying with driving time limits and other rules.

The FMCSA plans to award a one-year contract to Qualcomm to provide satellite terminals to relay the location, mileage and other trip details to an operations center, DeLaney said.

DeLaney declined to estimate the cost of the system while contract negotiations were under way. But she said the transportation agency would be able to cancel the contract should the U.S. Congress follow through with threats to shut off funding for the pilot project.

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