US DOT Recruiting Carriers for Border Program – Lack of Interest

I read with interest the report from the San Diego Union-Tribune on Friday.  This report, “Mexican trucks needed for U.S. cross-border pilot program:  U.S. officials urge Mexican companies to apply,” astounded me.

As most of my readers know I have long been opposed to the cross border trucking program with Mexico, and have written about it on a number of occasions in Challenge Magazine and even in World Net Daily.

The most common arguments against the program are related to safety.  I have never discounted those and find them to be quite legitimate.  But, I have focused my opposing comments on the concern I have for the American truck driver – both for personal safety south of the border (note the State Department’s Official Travel Warning) and for jobs.

Will the American truck driver who has to meet far more environmental, safety, and other regulatory demands at all times (not just when crossing the border) be able to compete with lower labor/freight rates and differing conditions south of the border?

NOW, according to this report, we have the U.S. Department of Transportation officials travelling to Mexico to address Mexican trucking companies.  They were expressing concern about not having enough Mexican carriers in the current pilot program to prove they are safe, so they are actively encouraging/recruiting more Mexican carriers to apply.  Is that really the roll of the US DOT – to recruit more to the pilot program, or is their legitimate role to simply operate the program?

If there’s not enough interest without actively recruiting, then that probably tells us quite a bit right there.

Of course, Canacar (who represents the Mexican trucking industry) suggests there are too many restrictions which is why the participation is limited.  Too many restrictions on ensuring the safety of American roads – really?

According to the report, Marcelo Perez, an investigator with the FMCSA, indicated they are finding themselves in a position now where they don’t have sufficient safety data to definitively determine if the program should continue.  That’s rather telling as well.

Here’s what we do know from the FMCSA web site:

  • 2 carriers are actively participating in the program
  • One of those has a vehicle out of service rate of 20%
  • There are 15 other carriers pending approval of operating authority

I did contact Sandra Dibble, the reporter for the San Diego U-T to see if she had further insight into the program.  She did not, though her article is quite inclusive.

Based on this report, and the fact that the President’s DOT budget has significant funds proposed to not only operate the program, but to build new facilities along the border to manage the requirements, it’s obvious this program is not going away.

Prior related columns in Challenge Magazine:
September 2011
October 2010
April 2010
May 2009

October 2008

Fuel Tax – Time to Devolve

Kudos to U.S. Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA) for his efforts to change the way fuel taxes are imposed and collected!  His proposal devolves this authority back to the states, and from my perspective, this makes a lot of sense.

I’ve written on multiple occasions that the current fuel tax is not being used for its intended purpose and is therefore resulting in increased costs to truckers.  A quick look at the history of the tax shows that the purpose was to build highways (here’s another good history)!  One can argue whether or not this task is complete, but it is plain to see that fuel tax monies are no longer used primarily for that purpose.

Instead, over 15% of the federal gas tax and about 12% of the federal diesel tax are set aside for mass transit (local traffic).  Furthermore, other “highway” funds are somehow justified to be used for items such as bike paths and walkways (presumably under the guise of alleviating highway congestion).

So, the fuel tax has evolved from a funding mechanism for the federal government to build and maintain highways, to a way to fund some infrastructure repair, mass transit operations (which then use local roads and rails), and even bike paths and walkways.

I’ve long argued that using the gas tax for its intended purpose would help alleviate the need for toll roads and increases in both state and federal highway funding (June 2009, Challenge Magazine, Driving Through DC).  Certainly with more fuel efficient cars, and even electric cars, fuel tax revenue may decline, but perhaps that is why we should look at a new way to fund infrastructure improvements/maintenance – but that is a story for another day.

Right now I am most intrigued by Congressman Graves’ proposal to devolve the national fuel tax back to the states.   With Congress perennially unable to pass a new long term highway bill, this proposal would give states the certainty they need when planning major projects.

Unfortunately, I doubt Congressman Graves’ proposal will be successful – though it certainly warrants very real discussion because, as I concluded in a November 2008 Driving Through DC column, “there are two things certain about the Highway Trust Fund: It will always have earmarks, and it is likely that the current funding mechanism will not be adequate in the future.”

Guess what, the future is now!

The trucking industry should unite behind true reform of the highway trust fund, and Congressman Grave’s proposal is a good start.  Remember, as P.J. O’Rourke said, “When politics are used to allocate resources, the resources all end up being allocated to politics.”

Over Regulation and Personal Freedoms

My “Driving Through DC” columns in Challenge Magazine frequently make mention of pending rules, regulations, or legislation that will have an impact on the trucking industry and specifically the individual truck driver.  On more than one occasion I have also cautioned against quick support of even the best intentioned of these rules, regulations, and pieces of legislation.

I was reminded of why I make these cautions late last week when I was visiting with a truck driver at a truck stop in Washington state.  After we finished talking about the intended issue (research for a future article in Challenge Magazine) we continued to talk a little – “off the record.”  This driver was expressing very real concern about the continued intrusion of government in the lives of drivers.

Specifically, the driver lamented about the ban on cell phones and the slippery slope the industry is now on with the government.  If the government bans cell phones, why not CB’s, radios, and other electronic devices?  Government already mandates when a driver must sleep, work, and take a break – even if it doesn’t make sense for a given situation.  Where will it end?

Now, let’s be honest, this driver and I are certainly not suggesting that distracted driving is good.  In fact, if more drivers were as focused on safety as the vast majority of American truck drivers the highways would be a much safer place to be.  This driver also commented on a wide variety of smaller vehicle driver distractions witnessed from the cab of a truck (some of which were quite interesting).  The comments shared by this driver, however, are not really about cell phones or distracted driving – they’re about over regulation.

My discussion with the driver also reminded me of my November 2011 column in Challenge Magazine.  In that column, I warned, “There are good-intentioned people that will work to push the restrictions into those areas beyond cell phones.”  Generally this is accomplished using scare tactics – just read my column for a perfect example of this from a leading government official.

As I re-read my column I was also reminded of a guest that recently appeared on my local radio program (a non-trucking public affairs program).  Dr. Walter Williams, a renowned economist from George Mason University and occasional guest host for the Rush Limbaugh program, wrote a column on December 28, 2011, entitled “Gullible Americans.”  In this column he made the same basic argument I did, though he referred to the cell phone ban as yet another example of the “camel’s nose in the tent.” What a great reference!  Again though, this is not about cell phones or distracted driving – it’s about over regulation.

I invite you to listen to my January 7, 2012, interview segment with Dr. Williams on this topic here:  Williams ITB Jan_7_2012

As great as my visit with my newest truck driver friend was, it unfortunately served as reminder of just how frustrating life on the road can be with the hand of government “helping” steer.  Having the federal government help save us from ourselves isn’t always the best choice – local governments are better, and individual responsibility is best!

Be safe out there folks – and be aware of who is helping you.  In other words, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help” isn’t always a good thing to hear.

Election Year Politics

From the “Driving Through DC” Challenge Magazine February 2012 column:

“An election year often results in no major policy changes and a lot of grandstanding. The long-term highway bill expires in March, and Congress did not finish it prior to the end of 2011. I wrote about this in November, but if Congress and the president could not pass a long-term bill prior to an election year, how do you think they will do during an election year?”

Read the entire article by clicking here.