Questions remain for cross-border trucking as pilot program nears end

mexicoWith the expiration of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s cross-border trucking pilot program with Mexico coming Oct. 14, both the future of cross-border trucking and the effectiveness of the agency’s three-year test are unclear. 

The agency has said little about the next steps of potential cross-border partnership between the two countries, and the program fell well below the participate level federal officials said they would need to accurately gauge the safety of Mexican carriers operating outside of the border zone. 

FMCSA’s program officially began Oct. 14, 2011, when it granted authority to Transportes Olympic. FMCSA said then it would need at least 4,100 inspections on 46 carriers to statistically validate any analysis and make further projections about safety of Mexican carriers in the U.S.

The agency met its target number of inspections — hitting 5,455, as of Sept. 21. But it fell well short of the 46 carriers needed, with just 13 participating currently.  

What’s more, of the 54 drivers and 55 trucks authorized to operate in the U.S., one carrier — Servicio de Transporte Internacional y Local — accounted for 55 percent of the inspections (3,027), while another participant, GCC Transportes, accounted for 25 percent of the inspections (1,375).

FMCSA says it’s reviewing the data “with the goal of developing a path forward to ensure safety on our highways while continuing to fulfill our NAFTA obligations.”

The lack of participation also has drawn the ire of at least one trucking trade group. 

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sent a letter to FMCSA Oct. 1 saying the low participation rate sheds doubt on whether FMCSA has met the requirements set by Congress to gather sufficient data from which to draw conclusions about the program. 

Also, 83 percent of miles traveled by participants have been within the border zone, OOIDA noted.

“What is most alarming is that according to inspection data, 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 violations,” OOIDA wrote.

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Participation issues were also mentioned in a first-year report from the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General. Congress requires these IG reports, with the final one due by mid-April. Also, the DOT is mandated to report “findings, conclusions, and recommendations” to Congress at the program’s end.

Under the program, FMCSA has authority to convert the permanent authority it granted to four participants to standard permanent authority at the program’s end. The remaining participants hold provisional authority, which will revert to being restricted to the border zone.

The 2011 agreement between the two nations — as well as the previous program — stipulated that Mexico provide reciprocal authority for U.S. carriers. Ten U.S. carriers participated in the 2007 program, and they were allowed to continue operation in Mexico after the United States terminated that program in 2009.

A Jan. 3 congressional report noted that the most recent FMCSA reciprocity data was from when the program was announced. In April 2011, four of the 10 carriers still operated in Mexico. Most U.S. trucking firms offering services there do through a partnership with a Mexican trucking company, the report said.

While the agency’s current program costs are unclear, a June 2010 congressional report offered some measure of expense. By March 2008, the FMCSA had estimated ensuring Mexican truck safety cost more than $500 million, after the first Mexican carrier crossed the border September 2007.