The recent release of a Transportation Departments inspector general's office government audit has brought to a head, once again, an issue which ignites deep feelings and loyalties in the best people.
One of the provisions of NAFTA is to allow drivers licensed in Mexico and big-rig trucks and buses registered there unfettered access to the US.
A pilot program to allow them on US highways began in September 2007 and ended in March 2009 when Congress cut off funding for it.
The claim by those opposing the rule is that the trucks are not inspected properly and regularly, at least to US standards, and that their sheer number will overwhelm already-overwrought border crossings.
Those in favor say that it's only fair because US trucks have access to Mexico. There's also a sometimes-not-so thinly-veiled charge of racism tossed at the people against instituting the law. I know this to be true because more than a year ago we posted a blog piece saying those against the rule were making some good points; hence, according to comments from some visitors here, I was "racist."
Currently, trucks and buses from Mexico are limited to a radius of about 50 miles north of the border; at warehouses within that area, they drop-off their loads (or passengers) and they're picked-up by American-registered vehicles and taken to their destinations nationwide.
Naturally, the Teamsters Union and its 1.4-million members, is against the provision and has fought hard to keep it from becoming law. The very name "Teamster" comes from drivers who managed "teams" of horses in the pre-industrial US; they've fought battles and won many, but this time they're up against entire governments.
Mexico slapped tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of goods shipped from the US after the pilot program was shut down.
The issue is heating-up again, and Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said Wednesday that "an inspector general report shows once and for all that the border should remain closed to unsafe Mexican trucks."
The Teamsters' press release goes on to say that the inspector general reported that states aren't consistently reporting Mexican drivers' traffic convictions. That "could result in Mexican Federal CDL (commercial driver's license) holders continuing to drive in the United States after incurring a disqualifying traffic offense."
The AP reports that: "Some Mexican passenger buses are not being inspected when they enter the US because they cross the border on evenings and weekends, there are no inspectors or the crossings lack safe places for inspections, according to a government audit made public Wednesday.
"Daily bus inspections were not being conducted at border crossings at Calexico and San Ysidro in California and Laredo and McAllen-Hidalgo Bridge in Texas, the Transportation Departments inspector general's office said in its report.
"At the San Ysidro and Laredo crossings, bus inspections were being carried out on the road's shoulder within inches of moving passenger buses, the report said."
According to the Teamsters, "The report said that the shift in border inspectors should "call into question whether FMCSA's (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) border staff could meet the bus inspection demands that may occur if the border were to open to a large number of Mexican long-haul trucks and buses."
Hoffa said that Mexican trucks should not be allowed to travel on U.S. highways until the United States implements a comprehensive inspection program and the Mexican government ensures that hours-of-service rules are enforced, that Mexican drivers meet the same qualifications as US drivers and that drug and alcohol testing facilities are brought up to US standards" (end of Teamsters' quote).
Admittedly, much of my opposition to this program is based on my own observations and experiences, having traveled to and through Mexico many times.
From appearance alone, really the only evidence I have to go on, trucks and buses in Mexico are in a different, maybe minor league, than their US cousins.
Because the topic is making the news once again, and politicos on all sides are deciding what their positions will be on the issue, it's time for all of us to let our feelings be known. We welcome and encourage all comments, from all sides.
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