Trucks at Work

Here they come ...

After much gnashing of teeth and rhetoric, Mexican trucks are on their way. Last night (about 9:05 p.m. to be precise about it) the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration held a press conference by phone with reporters to announce the start of its long-delayed cross-border trucking pilot program, which will operate for a year. Transportes Olympic, a 30-truck fleet based outside Monterrey in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, gets the dubious honor of being the first Mexican carrier to win approval under the program to operate on U.S. roads.

Only, they are NOT the first. In fact, they are number one thousand three hundred and one.

Didn't know that, eh? Guess what -- Mexican carriers have been operating on our roads for TWENTY FIVE YEARS people -- something many of you out there probably already know, but came as news to me. You see, back when trucking was regulated, about 1,300 Mexican carriers applied for and received U.S. operating authority -- throughout the U.S., mind you, not the 25-mile commercial border zone, established much later on. And when trucking got de-regulated in 1982, the now-defunct Internstate Commerce Commission grandfathered all of them in -- meaning they got to keep their U.S. operating status.

In the press briefing last night John Hill, FMCSA's chief administrator, said about 800 of those original 1,300 Mexican carriers are STILL operating on our roads -- free and clear, don't have to go back and participate in all the safety checks being demanded under the pilot program. He isn't greatly concerned about them, either, as FMCSA surveys of Mexican carriers operating in the 25-mile border zone -- surveys that include trucks from those 800 carriers -- found they have an average out of service (OOS) rate of 21%; a little less than the 22% OOS average racked up by U.S. carriers.

Now, say what you will, but it seems suddenly really ridiculous that there's been all this screaming about 100 Mexican carriers being appoved for the FMCSA's pilot program when 800 of them are here free and clear, having to deal with far less scrutiny than what these new guys are undergoing. Heck, a U.S.-based carrier can get rolling once they've secured insurance and operating authority, with FMCSA verifying they meet safety requirements over an 18-month period. The Mexican carriers in this pilot project must get all of that done on the front end -- vehicle inspections, driver drug tests, driver English-speaking tests, etc., etc. -- before one tire is allowed to turn on our asphalt. Hey, some U.S. carriers out there could use that level of scrutiny.

Listen, I still think we should have tabled this whole thing for another decade or so -- the hue and cry is only going to get worse in the days ahead, and frankly, I wouldn't want to be in a Mexican truck driver's shoes right now. All the rhetoric out there is going to fire up the wrong kind of people and lead -- I fear -- to race-baiting and physical confrontations. I hope and pray that doesn't happen, but I've seen this kind of thing before.

But here they are ... and here they've been! Now we must make sure that not only are Mexican trucks safe, but our own as well, as U.S. carriers are now crossing the border the other way. We've actually been doing this cross-border stuff for over two decades now, with little incident. Let's hope we can keep it that way.