The carnage on the roads that was expected by many when last year’s Bush administration pilot program allowed Mexican long-haul truckers to haul cargo into the U.S. has failed to materialize. That program allowed 100 Mexican trucking companies to freely haul cargo anywhere in the U.S. for a year instead of the 20-mile limit previously applied.
Ten U.S. carriers with 55 trucks and 27 Mexican carriers with 107 trucks have participated in the program as of July without incident, U.S. and Mexican officials said. Apparently with that good record in mind, the administration is extending the Cross Border Pilot Program for two more years, in defiance of Congressional attempts to bring it to a halt.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Association (FMCSA), the program was extended to collect more reliable statistics and give participants time to recoup their investment in the program.
Teamster leader James Hoffa, representing organized labor, has been particularly outspoken in his opposition to the program. “I’m mad as hell about it, but I’m not surprised,” he said about the program’s extension. He has especially questioned the safety of Mexican trucks.
“It seems that 11 months into the program, with no major violations of safety and no accidents, that this shows that Mexican carriers are quite able to operate safely on our highways and follow our rules,” said a writer for the Mexican Trucker Online website. “To think otherwise is really asinine.”
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Highways subcommittee, also expressed blistering opposition to the program’s extension. “This administration has been hell-bent on opening up our border but over the past year has failed to show they can adequately inspect Mexican carriers while also maintaining a robust U.S. safety inspection program,” he said. “There is no reason to believe these problems will be addressed over the next two years. The safety of the traveling public must come first – before the administration’s fantasies about free trade.”
The situation could become moot if a Democrat becomes the next U.S. president. The legislation does not become effective until a new president takes office. Senator Barack Obama opposes the Mexican trucks coming into the country, while Republican Sen. John McCain supports it.
Hoffa has voiced his opposition based on his belief that in the United States there are certain safety standards to be met before the border can be opened. For example, Mexican drivers must speak English. Supporters of the program say that Hoffa’s idea of “speaking English” is at the level of an English lit major.
He also says that Mexican drivers must be tested for drugs and alcohol according to U.S. standards. Actually, drug testing is mandatory in Mexico as a condition of obtaining licensing and drug testing for the Mexican drivers participating in the Cross Border Program have all been done in American labs.
Regarding the safety issue, the Mexican Trucker website says that trucks operating under the Cross Border Program are turning in safety stats that are superior to American carriers, a claim that needs to be independently validated.
As to the future of the program, it will probably work its way through the courts in the years to come, even as the trucks continue to roll across U.S. highways.