Mexican trucks wait at the final checkpoint before entering the United States at the Laredo World Trade Bridge.
Congressional transportation leaders attacked the U.S. Department of Transportation’s pilot cross-border trucking program, which DOT Secretary Mary Peters says will allow American truckers into the Mexican marketplace as well.
Peters said at a Feb. 23 news conference that when the initial safety audits are done and proof of insurance verified, the first Mexican trucks authorized under the pilot program will begin traveling beyond the border areas. Using her estimated 60 days, Mexican trucks could start traveling beyond the U.S. commercial border zone this month.
“The trucks must be insured by a U.S.-licensed firm,” she said. “And from hood to tail lamps, they must meet United States safety standards, including brakes, turn signals and cargo-securing equipment.”
Until 1982, Mexican trucks could drive anywhere in the country, Peters noted. Currently, American trucks also are restricted from cross-border trucking. But this new program, which will admit up to 100 Mexican carriers, will allow an equal number of U.S. trucking companies to cross the border and compete in Mexico. Sixty of those 100 Mexican carriers already do business in the United States.
No U.S. carrier has applied yet to do business in Mexico, but U.S. carriers have purchased Mexican carriers, Peters said.
Two prominent Democratic congressmen – U.S. Rep. James L. Oberstar of Minnesota, the House Transportation Committee chairman, and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, who leads the Highways and Transit Subcommittee – criticized the move.
“It is impossible to know how many hours or days a driver has been behind the wheel of a truck in Mexico, without rest, prior to crossing the border and entering our highways,” Oberstar said. “Anecdotal evidence from news reports suggests that working hours for truck drivers in Mexico go far beyond anyone’s estimate of a safe, reasonable limit.”
He added that U.S. officials lacked sufficient oversight and established controls for drug and alcohol testing of Mexican truckers. DOT representatives said the Mexicans’ urine tests are required to be processed in U.S. labs.
DeFazio said he was “dubious” Mexican trucks and drivers will meet safety and environmental standards equal to those of the United States.
“Under the North American Free Trade Agreement the U.S. has consistently compromised its environmental and labor standards,” DeFazio said. “Now we’re being asked to risk the safety of citizens on highways and in communities where these trucks will travel. You can be sure Congress will be keeping a close eye on the implementation of this pilot program.”
DOT representatives said Mexican CDL tests are comparable to U.S. tests. Whatever hours a Mexican driver accumulates before crossing the border will count as HOS on his logbook, and Mexican drivers are required to keep logbooks to U.S. standards, the DOT said.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, scheduled a March 8 hearing to investigate whether current federal leadership “has fulfilled both the spirit and the letter of the law.”
The federal government has hired and trained hundreds into the inspection program, which currently has 540 federal and state inspectors, Peters said. “And under our safety inspection plan, each and every truck in the demonstration program will be checked, and any unsafe vehicle or unfit driver will be taken off the road,” Peters said.
The program requires Mexican drivers to have a valid commercial driver’s license, carry proof that they are medically fit, and comply with United States’ hours-of-service rules, Peters said. “And they must be able to understand and respond in English to questions and directions from inspectors,” Peters added.
Mexican carriers will not be able to move goods from one U.S. city for delivery to another or to haul hazardous materials, Peters said.
Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president, said that two years ago, the DOT inspector general found that the Mexican government and Mexican motor carriers did not meet congressionally mandated requirements. A new inspector general audit report is due in the next couple of months, he said.
“Where is the inspector general’s report that tells us that Mexico is meeting U.S. standards?” Hoffa asked. “Why is the president willing to move forward when his own inspector general has stated that Mexico cannot meet its obligations?”
DOT representatives said the 2005 report indicated they had met the congressional requests.
They were not able to say immediately whether Mexican drivers would be required to have a passport. However, Mexican drivers will be required to have temporary entry visas, which all non-U.S. citizens must have to do business in the United States, DOT said.
There is no test of Mexican carriers’ proficiency in U.S. regulations, but information on American regulations is provided to applicants, DOT said. Carriers who are accepted but chalk up violations will be subject to more inspections or, if the violations are especially serious, removed from the program, DOT said.
Out-of-service rates on Mexican trucks and drivers are comparable to those of U.S. trucks and drivers, DOT said.
The American Trucking Associations voiced approval for the announcement. “Such regulation of Mexican carriers operating in the United States will ensure a level playing field in cross-border operations,” said Clayton Boyce, ATA’s vice president of public affairs.
Additional information on the cross-border inspection program can be found at this site.
– Jill Dunn
CTA Backs Truck Show Las Vegas
The California Trucking Association has signed a multiyear agreement to sponsor Truck Show Las Vegas and will discontinue its International Trucking Show in Southern California, the Randall-Reilly Events Group announced.
“CTA’s decision to sponsor our recently acquired event in Las Vegas is significant,” said Mike Reilly, president and CEO of Randall-Reilly Publishing. “Their association is well respected in our industry, and they will be integral in promoting the event to their membership.”
“We are pleased to have the opportunity to produce the one and only event serving the industry in the Western United States,” said Alan Sims, vice president and executive director of the Randall-Reilly Events Group. “By pooling the resources, exhibitors and attendees of both the Truck Show Las Vegas and the International Trucking Show, we will be able to re-create over the next few years what once existed in the West.”
The International Trucking Show was held annually in Las Vegas, attracting 500-plus exhibitors and 30,000-plus attendees, before 2003, when CTA and Independent Trade Show Management began staging two separate shows, CTA’s in Southern California and ITSM’s in Las Vegas. Each of the separate shows had fewer exhibitors and attendees than the combined show had enjoyed. The 2006 Truck Show Las Vegas attracted 15,002 attendees and 366 exhibitors.
Randall-Reilly Publishing announced Feb. 7 that it had bought Truck Show Las Vegas from ITSM. The 2007 Truck Show Las Vegas will be held Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 7-9, at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“We are pleased to sponsor Truck Show Las Vegas,” said Michael Campbell, CTA executive vice president and CEO. “It will be good for our members – and the entire industry – to be able to attend one annual event in the West where they can meet face to face with OEMs and suppliers and take part in educational sessions.”
Randall-Reilly also produces the Great American Trucking Show, held annually in Dallas. Tradeshow Week magazine has recognized GATS as one of the 200 largest and 50 fastest growing trade shows in the U.S. and Canada.
Randall-Reilly Publishing’s many other holdings in the trucking industry include Overdrive, Truckers News, CCJ and Transportista magazines and the eTrucker.com website.
– From Staff Reports
ATA Wants More Stringent Driver Training Standards
The American Trucking Associations is calling for tougher driver training standards in efforts to raise the safety bar for new drivers entering the industry.
ATA’s board of directors adopted a new safety policy at its winter meeting that calls upon the industry to embrace competency-based training standards, provides guidance on the qualifications for driver-instructors and promotes tougher commercial driver’s license testing for new drivers.
“The federal government should require stronger training standards to ensure that drivers are truly prepared to meet the real-world driving conditions they will face every day,” said ATA President Bill Graves.
“By raising the training standards for both students and instructors along with the testing requirements to obtain a commercial driver’s license,” Graves said, “we ensure that only highly trained drivers are traveling the nation’s roads.”
Other planks in ATA’s safety platform include laws that allow police to stop and ticket drivers for not wearing their safety belts; a crackdown on motorists’ unsafe driving around large trucks; and, most recently and most controversially within the industry, mandatory speed governors that would limit large trucks to 68 miles per hour.
– From Staff Reports
New Road Team Named
The American Trucking Associations has announced the drivers named to the 2007-’08 America’s Road Team. The group of million-mile, accident-free professional truck drivers will spend the next two years representing the trucking industry and delivering its highway safety message to the motoring public.
Sixteen captains, with a collective 366 years of experience and nearly 30.5 million safe-driving miles among them, were selected from a group of 35 finalists who competed before a panel of judges from the trucking industry and trucking media. The new America’s Road Team captains are:
– Coy O’Neal
XM and Sirius Plan to Merge
Satellite radio networks XM and Sirius announced on Feb. 19 their intent to merge into one company by the end of 2007.
“The companies will continue to operate independently until the transaction is completed and will work together to determine the combined company’s corporate name and headquarters location prior to closing,” the companies announced.
Together, the two networks have about 14 million subscribers, including many truckers drawn to the 24-hour offerings of sports, news, talk and music and the companies’ rival trucking channels. XM’s Open Road (Channel 171) features Bill Mack, Dave Nemo, Dale “Truckin’ Bozo” Sommers and Overdrive Trucking News, while Sirius’ Road Dog Trucking Radio (Channel 147) features Carl P. Mayfield, Mojo Nixon and the Midnight Trucking Radio Network.
Company officials said in a Feb. 20 conference call that no programming changes will be made until the merger is complete, after which Sirius programming will become available to XM subscribers and vice versa. Package options might include subscription to certain channels on an a la carte basis, allowing for lower pricing options than the current structure, company officials said.
“No plans to change any of our programming in the foreseeable future,” said Patrick Reilly, Sirius senior vice president of communications, adding that it was far too early in the process to think about changes.
Advanced entertainment offerings and real-time traffic and weather data were among new programming in the works, the companies said.
Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin will become CEO of the combined company, while XM Chairman Gary Parsons will become chairman of the combined company, the companies said. XM CEO Hugh Panero will continue in his current role until the merger is complete, the companies said. The new company’s 12-member board of directors will include Karmazin, Parsons and four members designated by each company, plus one representative each from General Motors and American Honda, the companies said. “Further management appointments will be announced prior to closing,” the companies said.
By setting aside XM-vs.-Sirius competition, the companies better can focus on the challenges posed by broadcast radio, iPods, mobile phone streaming, HD radio, Internet radio and next-generation wireless technologies, the companies said.
The Federal Communications Commission is expected to apply heavy antitrust scrutiny to the merger. In 2002, the regulatory body denied a proposed merger of EchoStar, owner of the Dish Network, and the other major satellite television provider, DirecTV.
The difference between satellite radio and satellite television is the nature of their markets, Karmazin said. Whereas 90 percent of all TV viewers pay to access content and only 10 percent access it for free, the radio percentages are almost exactly opposite, as Sirius and XM compete with a host of freely accessible radio stations, Karmazin said.
XM and Sirius will work closely with federal regulators in the coming months, Karmazin said. “Both companies have done all our homework on this issue.”
The new company will “enhance availability of satellite radios, offer expanded content to subscribers, drive increased advertising revenue and reduce expenses,” Karmazin said.
XM stockholders will receive 4.6 shares of Sirius stock for each XM share they own, the companies said. XM and Sirius shareholders each will own about half the new company, the companies said.
– Todd Dills
Congressmen Cold to Privatization of Highways
Both Democrats and Republicans criticized public-private partnerships in a recent U.S. House hearing on the privatization of highways.
After the Feb. 13 hearing, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chair of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, criticized the Bush administration for encouraging such deals as an answer to highway funding problems.
“In pushing this ideological policy, the administration has failed to disclose the potential downfalls as well as possible gains of privatization,” DeFazio said. The U.S. Department of Transportation should be honest, DeFazio said, about such problems as monopoly pricing and non-compete agreements, in which governments are actually prevented from building roads that would siphon traffic from the for-profit highway.
“Overall, the hearing raised questions about the appropriateness of many of these anticipated agreements, especially those involving existing assets like the Pennsylvania toll road and others,” DeFazio said.
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said he shared many of DeFazio’s concerns. Long-term lease agreements can be a financial windfall for a current governor or mayor, but the benefits don’t necessarily extend to future administrations, DeFazio said.
“I am concerned about possible sweetheart deals for private companies,” Duncan said.
Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., chair of the House Transportation Committee, said he was skeptical these local and regional deals can add up to a national transportation program.
“I am not convinced that 50 states, each pursuing its separate transportation priorities with their respective private-sector partners, will, in the end, produce a coherent, integrated, national surface transportation system using numerous public-private partnerships,” Oberstar said.
The panel heard from partnership proponents including Tyler Duvall, U.S. assistant secretary for transportation policy. President Bush’s DOT, under Norman Mineta and now Mary Peters, views the proliferation of such deals as key to reducing congestion costs, Duvall said.
A group of heavy hitters among transportation lobbies recently formed Americans for a Strong National Highway Network, a group opposed to the trend toward privatizing toll roads and bridges. The coalition includes the American Trucking Associations, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, NATSO, the American Automobile Association, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association and the American Highway Users Alliance.
ATA supports the maintenance and improvement of the current toll-free national highway system, in which highway construction funds primarily come from highway user fees, such as the fuel tax.
In the biggest public-private deal so far, in 2006 the state of Indiana under Gov. Mitch Daniels sold a 75-year lease on the Indiana Toll Road to an Australian-Spanish consortium. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and New Jersey Gov. John Corzine have explored similar leases for their turnpikes.
While the road deals affect the most people, the recent trend toward contracting the work of state governments to private companies as a quick fund-raiser is not limited to transportation. States are exploring similar deals for the operation of their lotteries, for example.
– Jill Dunn
FYI | News Briefs
Diesel Price Rise
Diesel fuel prices for the week ending Feb. 26 jumped by 6 cents to $2.55 from the prior week, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The U.S. average also was 8 cents more than the price charged one year ago. The nation’s lowest prices again were on the Gulf Coast and in the Lower Atlantic region, recording averages of $2.497 and $2.483, respectively. California drivers again paid the highest cost in the country at $2.91 per gallon, 22 cents more than the year-prior period.
NATSO Names New Chairman
NATSO, the national truckstop and travel plaza organization, named Dan Alsaker on Feb. 1 as its new chairman for 2007. Alsaker replaces outgoing Chairman James J. Goetz. Alsaker is the president of Broadway Truck Stops, a chain of eight truckstops in Iowa, Montana, Nevada and Washington. He has been in the truckstop industry since 1972, when he joined his parents in the family business, which was launched in 1963.
No Tax Stickers Needed
Based on a recent change in federal law, New York state no longer requires motor carriers to display state highway use tax stickers or to carry state highway use tax permits in their vehicles. This change does not, however, relieve a carrier’s obligation to apply for permits, file returns and pay the highway use tax.
TravelCenters of America has reopened its Binghamton, N.Y., location after the facility closed last June due to flood damage. Though the location’s fuel pumps were operational by early July and the site’s restaurant reopened in November, the building now is fully functional with a number of new features for visitors. TA Binghamton is located just off of I-81.
Arkansas has been granted more than $1.3 million to help Delta residents get training for transportation jobs, including truck driving and diesel mechanics. The grant will allow participants to obtain specific certifications, such as heavy truck diesel maintenance or an associate’s degree in applied science and general technology. The training will be offered in the new Workforce Technology Center at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis.
Lower Speed Limits
Tennessee has reduced speeds in Sullivan County to decrease air-polluting emissions. The affected area includes I-81 from Kingsport to Bristol on the Virginia border, as well as portions of U.S. 421 toward Mountain City and U.S. 23 toward Asheville, N.C. The speed limit decreased from 70 mph for all vehicles to 55 mph for trucks and 65 mph for other vehicles.
Toll Rates Announced
Truckers driving through California’s San Diego County soon will have the option of taking a 10-mile express toll road for $11.25, three times what four-wheelers will pay.
The South Bay Expressway, scheduled to open this summer, extends from SR 54 in Spring Valley through eastern Chula Vista to the SR 905 in Otay Mesa near the border crossing. For a four-wheeler, the entire expressway will cost $3.50 when using a FasTrak transponder and $3.75 if paying cash.
Affected tractors are equipped with an automated Eaton UltraShift Plus or Eaton Advantage Transmission with right hand stalk shifter. In the affected trucks, the display on the instrument panel can indicate “N” when the shifter is set into “D” or “R,” causing the truck not to move.