Mexican Trucks Entering U.S. Sparks Critics

As U.S. Transportation Secretary, Mary E. Peters, announced a yearlong pilot project to allow Mexican trucks to make deliveries beyond the current 20-25 mile commercial zone north of the border, those in opposition are making known their opinions. The first Mexican trucks to enter the United States under the program are expected to do so within two months. At the same time that Mexican trucks will be making deliveries into the country, U.S. trucks will be allowed to make deliveries into Mexico.

In announcing the program, Department of Transportation (DOT, www.dot.gov) Secretary Peters pointed out that today's reality is that Mexican trucks move to the border and wait for U.S. trucks to arrive in order to transfer cargo to them for delivery within the United States. She said that the process wastes money, drives up the cost of goods and leaves trucks loaded with cargo idling inside U.S. borders.

In attempting to head off expected criticism, Peters announced an program that would have U.S. inspectors conduct inperson safety audits to makes sure participating Mexican companies are in compliance with U.S. safety regulations. Among the requirements are that all Mexican drivers need to have a valid commercial drivers license, carry proof of their medical fitness, that they comply with all U.S. hours of service rules and be able to understand questions and directions in English. Companies meeting the standards will be allowed to make international pick-ups and deliveries only. They will not be permitted to move goods from one U.S. city for delivery in another, to haul hazardous materials or to transport passengers.

In supporting the program, Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, said, "We are committed to retaining a high level of security and safety standards under this program. The touch security measures we already have in place will remain unchanged, resulting in a smart and secure approach to safeguarding the border, while allowing for American and Mexican carriers to deliver cargo outside of arbitrary commercial zones."

In reaction to the announcement, Jim Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters (www.teamster.org) said, "As with the Dubai Ports debacle, President Bush is willing to risk our national security by giving unfettered access to America's transportation infrastructure to foreign companies and their government sponsors." For the past 12 years, the Teamsters have led efforts to keep the U.S. border closed to Mexican trucks.

Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (www.ooida.com) executive vice president , Todd Spencer, said, "Outrageous is the best way to describe the U.S. Department of Transportation's nearly simultaneous announcements that all safety and security issues with Mexican motor carriers have been resolved, and that 100 of these trucking companies will now be given U.S. DOT's blessing to operate throughout the United States."

Spencer argues that U.S. regulations are more stringent for drivers licenses and that U.S. licenses can also be verified to show driving history, violations and compliance of any vehicle driven going back a decade or longer, which is not the case with a Mexican commercial drivers license.

There has been Congressional reaction to the announcement, as well. Rep. James L. Oberstar, (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said, "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. 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,"

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, (D-Idaho), chairman of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, said, "Despite the recent agreement to allow U.S. truck safety inspectors into Mexico to conduct safety audits, I am dubious that Mexican trucks or their drivers will meet the same safety and environmental standards as those in the U.S."

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