A cross-border pilot program that would allow Mexican long-haul trucks to make deliveries within the United States is being challenged in court over concerns that the Mexican trucks and drivers would not be safe enough for U.S. roads. The Teamsters and Public Citizen filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation on Friday in an effort to stop the prospect of long-distance cross-border trucking, which was originally introduced by the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) but never fully instituted.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, alleges the standards set forth in the pilot program aren’t strict enough for Mexican carriers and drivers. Mexican trucks, for example, would not be required under the program’s current rules to display proof of compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations.
Seven Mexican long-haul carriers have applied to make delivery runs in the U.S. under the NAFTA pilot program. Two of those are on track to gain U.S. operating authority by the end of this month and could start making runs in the U.S. within weeks if the program goes through.
But that’s a big “if.” As Truckinginfo.com points out, both Democratic and Republican administrations and legislators have advocated for the cross-border carrier program, but various groups, including safety advocacy organizations, environmental groups, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) have sought ways to derail it.
When Congress suddenly defunded the 2007-2009 pilot program, the Mexican government imposed stiff tariffs on 99 U.S. products, making them uncompetitive south of the border and costing American companies more than $2 billion a year. Mexico is now poised to roll back the taxes with the program’s resumption, starting with an immediate 50 percent tariff repeal. The economic implications of the program are enormous. U.S. companies hope to regain their footing in the Mexican marketplace but worry that Mexico has had two full years to forge relationships with other competitors.
Truckinginfo.com noted that federal regulators intend to compare the performance of Mexican carriers against the performance of U.S. carriers over a three-year period. Interestingly, in the earlier cross-border pilot program during the Bush Administration, federal regulators “found that Mexican carriers had no accidents and much lower out-of-service rates than U.S. trucks and drivers.”
However, there weren’t enough Mexican carriers in the program to create a statistically valid sample, and U.S. authorities in all likelihood approved only the best of the best Mexican carriers for participation in the program.