The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposed its plan for a three-year pilot program in which Mexican and U.S. carriers can provides long-distance services between each country.
The pilot sets up a vetting and enforcement program to ensure the safety of Mexican trucks, with the goal of evaluating their safety performance, based on inspections at the roadside, ports of entry and weigh stations, and on traffic enforcement. Hazardous materials and passenger carriers will not be included in the program.
The program is the result of an agreement between President Obama and President Calderón of Mexico to resolve the long-standing dispute over cross-border trucking. FMCSA will publish the details of the program in the Federal Register on Thursday and will take comments for 30 days.
Once the program is in place, Mexico will suspend the tariffs it levied when the Congress killed the earlier version of the pilot. In 2009 Mexico imposed import tariffs on about 89 U.S. agricultural and industrial products, and in 2010 it revised and expanded the list to 99 products.
In general, the program will set up a three-stage process for Mexican carriers that wish to participate. FMCSA said it does not know how many Mexican carriers will join. The last program attracted 775 applications, but only 29 of those carriers completed the paperwork and were vetted.
The process will start with the Mexican carrier filling out a 28-page application covering details of its operations, including affiliations, insurance, safety program and compliance with U.S. laws.
The application will be followed by a pre-authorization safety audit, in which FMCSA reviews the carrier's safety management system and inspects the specific trucks that will cross the border.
The safety management system would have to include such elements as a drug and alcohol testing program and a way to verify hours of service, insurance and driver qualifications, among numerous other requirements. Trucks that pass the inspection will get a CVSA decal.
If the carrier passes the audit, it would receive provisional operating authority and could commence cross-border operations. Provisional authority will last for 18 months. After that period, if the carrier has no pending enforcement or safety improvement actions and has cleared a compliance review, it is eligible for permanent authority in the pilot program.
Mexican carriers that have permanent authority in the pilot program would be eligible to convert that to standard permanent authority after the three-year pilot program is done.
For the first three months of the provisional authority stage, Mexican trucks and drivers will be inspected each time they enter the U.S. That period will be extended if the carrier does not get at least three inspections.
After three months and clearing the audit, the carrier will get the same inspection rate as the rest of the trucks now engaged in cross-border, commercial zone trucking. To be eligible for this status, the carrier must have an out-of-service rate at or below the U.S. average and its Safety Management System scores must be below the FMCSA threshold.
If instituted, the pilot program would run for three years from the first grant of provisional authority, unless FMCSA gathers enough data to make a decision about the program before that time. The agency said it could stop the program earlier if continuation is not consistent with the pilot's goals.
FMCSA will publish on its website and in the Federal Register comprehensive data on the Mexican carriers in the program, including their names, their audit performance, the trucks that have been cleared, the results of roadside inspections and the number of trips. The agency will track each carrier's data to gauge compliance.
The U.S. and Mexican departments of transportation will establish a monitoring group to supervise the administration of the program. In addition, FMCSA is establishing its own advisory committee, a subcommittee of the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, for suggestions. And the agency will make annual reports to Congress.