Transportes Olympic, based in Monterrey, Nuevo León, carried the first shipments, steel construction material, past the 25-mile previously restricted border zone. The two trucks then picked up similar freight in Arkansas and Alabama and moved it back south, past the US-Mexico border.
Under terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), such unrestricted access was to begin in 1995. The border did not open due to protracted lawsuits and negotiations that sought to forbid the movement of the Mexican trucks north of the limited zone. Within that zone loads were transferred to US carriers to complete delivery within the country. Estimates of the transportation costs of these drop-and-hook operations run as high as $400 million annually that might be saved through this program.
Initially in addition to Transportes Olympic’s two trucks, the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has authorized Transportes Rafa of Tijuana, Baja California two trucks and Mexico City’s Padilla to operate five trucks.
Reports are that as many as 25 Mexican carriers will be added each month until 100 are authorized. It’s anticipated that ultimately 1,000 trucks may be operating under the yearlong pilot program. During the test period 100 US-based carriers will be allowed to travel throughout Mexico. The first to receive authorization from the Mexican government is Stagecoach Cartage & Distribution of El Paso, TX.
Continuing in opposition, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association asked the US House of Representatives and the US Senate to take immediate action against the Mexican trucking pilot program. Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said the union will also lobby to cut its funding by pressing Congress to stop the program.
Accusing the Bush Administration of rushing to implement a pilot program to allow Mexican trucks to operate in the US as required under NAFTA, the US Senate approved an amendment to the 2008 transportation spending bill that cuts funding for the test. The House of Representatives passed similar legislation.
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said the DOT authorized the program too quickly, particularly in view of a report that found a number of problems with Mexican truck safety records. Supporting the test, Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) said that it would be worth giving the program a chance because it is more efficient and less costly for American consumers if the Mexican trucks can travel in the US.
President Bush had threatened to veto spending bills which exceeded budget limits the Administration had put on domestic programs.
The transportation spending bill included highway projects, grants for airport expansion and community centers, housing projects and economic development projects. In part, the Bush Administration proposed cutting $765 million from the $3.5 billion budget for airport improvement grants.
Teamsters General President James Hoffa praised the Senate vote, calling the Bush Administration’s action opening the border to Mexican trucks “illegal” and “reckless.” He commented, “We don’t want to share our highways with dangerous trucks from Mexico.” Hoffa said that since the congressional action only blocks funding for a year, the Teamsters would continue to fight against the program.
In his comments, issued September 11th, Hoffa linked the issue to the 9/11 terror attacks saying, “I’m sure every American is relieved that the Senate voted to make sure that potential threats to national security aren’t allowed to travel freely on our highways.”