March 16, 2017 12:30 PM, EDT

Teamsters Ask Appeals Court to End Mexican Trucks Program

Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg News

Attorneys for the Teamsters asked a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. District Court of Appeals in San Francisco to end the Mexican trucks program because a three-year pilot program did not draw a large enough sample to prove that Mexican carriers can operate safely on U.S. highways.

Teamsters attorney Eric Brown told the judges that a December 2014 Department of Transportation’s Inspector General audit of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration pilot concluded that participation was too small to yield sufficient safety data. As a result, the Inspector General said its report did not contain any recommendations.

Brown contended that FMCSA’s final report to Congress on the pilot in January 2015 violated the Administrative Procedures Act because its conclusion that Mexico-domiciled carriers operate at a level of safety equal to or greater than U.S. and Canadian carriers is “arbitrary and capricious” in light of the admitted lack of significant data from a pilot program Congress required DOT to conduct.

“A test has to be a valid test,” Brown told the court in a 36-minute, March 15 oral arguments hearing. “If there’s not enough participation to draw conclusions, then it’s not test.”

But DOT attorney Dana Kaersvang told the judges that the agency produced enough data to show that the 15 Mexican carriers that participated in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration pilot operated safely during the program — even outperformed the U.S. and Canadian carriers in the number of violations.

Kaersvang said that the 15 carriers used 55 trucks to log 1.5 million miles during the pilot.

“It wasn’t a surprise that there was small participation because there hadn’t been a huge participation in the prior pilot program,” Kaersvang said.

Kaersvang told the court that there currently are 27 Mexican-domiciled carriers with operating authority in the two years since the pilot ended, but nine of the carriers are not active. There are about 130,000 Mexican-domiciled carriers in Mexico, she said.

“We’re not drawing conclusions about every motor carrier in Mexico,” Kaersvang said. “We’re saying the carriers on our roads are safe.”

The judges did not indicate when they would rule on the issue.

The Mexican truck issue dates to 1994, when the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect. The U.S. was to open its borders to more longhaul Mexican trucks, but that was delayed by questions from the Teamsters and others about safety standards for Mexican trucks.

In 2002, standards were adopted and a demonstration project was scheduled, but Congress blocked the funding, triggering Mexican tariffs on some American products.