U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta today directed the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to act on the 130 applications received thus far from Mexico-domiciled truck and bus companies seeking to transport international cargo in cross-border services in the United States or to provide regular route services between Mexico and the United States.

Secretary Mineta's action was prompted today when President Bush modified the moratorium on granting operating authority to Mexican motor carriers. The President's action means that the United States has fulfilled its obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and that Mexican truck and regular-route bus service into the U.S. interior can begin. As a practical matter, this service will begin only after the FMCSA reviews Mexican carrier applications and grants provisional operating authority to qualified Mexican truck and bus companies seeking this authority.

"By modifying the moratorium, President Bush has made good on his commitment to open the border to international trucking and cross-border regular route bus service. This will help increase trade between our countries," Secretary Mineta said. "Mexican carriers and drivers must meet the same standards as U.S. operators. I have made a lifelong commitment to equality under the law and will not, however, tolerate discriminatory enforcement. In this matter of trucking, as in all the modes of transportation, the pervasive issue is safety."

Secretary Mineta added, "We look forward to working with Mexico, in the same way that we already are cooperating with the Canadians, as we synchronize our activities in advance of opening the border for expanded passenger bus and truck operations."

Kenneth M. Mead, the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, stated: "The Department has worked diligently and aggressively to fulfill the requirement for establishing a strong safety program before the southern border was opened to long-haul Mexican truck traffic. This objective has been met by having in place a sufficient number of inspectors, adequate facilities and space for inspections, measures to ensure that licenses are valid and that motor carrier firms pass safety and compliance reviews. These actions are testimony that this Secretary and the Department place a high value on safety. As mandated by Congress, we will continue to review and report on the implementation of these requirements."

Mexican trucking firms that receive operating authority as a result of this process will be permitted to deliver and back-haul cargo to and from the United States. Similarly, Mexico-domiciled bus companies will be permitted to schedule regular passenger service to and from points in Mexico and the United States. Mexico is obligated under NAFTA to provided expanded access for U.S. carriers.

The change in the moratorium today affects only international cargo and service between the United States and Mexico. It left in place the moratorium on permits to Mexico-domiciled motor carriers for providing truck or bus services between points in the United States.

The FMCSA, which regulates interstate truck and bus safety, will be granting operating authority only to Mexican motor carriers that comply with all U.S. safety standards and insurance requirements. The agency has established a detailed application process and a comprehensive safety monitoring program, which are intended to ensure that only Mexican carriers capable of fully complying with U.S. safety regulations operate in the United States. Individual applications are being reviewed and as soon as all the administrative steps are completed, including completion of on-site safety audits, qualified motor carriers will be granted provisional operating authority.

The Department will continue to work closely with the Department of Justice, the Office of Homeland Security, and other relevant federal agencies to help ensure the security of the border and prevent potential threats to national security.

In preparing for the day when it could implement the truck and bus provisions of NAFTA, the FMCSA met or exceeded its own safety goals as well as requirements of the Fiscal Year 2002 Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. That law set 22 preconditions for FMCSA to meet before it could process and approve any applications from Mexican carriers.

These requirements included increasing the number of border enforcement staff to 252 persons, including 144 safety inspectors, 67 auditors, and 41 safety investigators. FMCSA has also constructed and expanded inspection stations along the border; provided additional parking areas for vehicles taken out of service for safety violations; acquired and installed weigh stations; and made other improvements to infrastructure and federal and state facilities.

Mexican drivers will be subject to U.S. drug and alcohol requirements. They also must follow U.S. hours of service rules to ensure that they have sufficient rest to drive safely, and they must maintain logs to prove it to safety inspectors.

To drive in the United States, commercial drivers from Mexico must have a Licencia Federal, the Mexican equivalent of a U.S. commercial driver's license. In a 1991 memorandum of understanding, the United States and Mexico established reciprocity between the Mexican Licencia Federal and the U.S. commercial driver's license. The 1991 memorandum includes recognition by the United States that Mexican truck drivers who possess a Licencia Federal also meet U.S. medical requirements. U.S. and Mexican truck inspectors can access federal and state databases in the United States and Mexico during an inspection to check whether a driver's license is valid.

To receive operating authority, all Mexico-domiciled carriers must undergo a safety audit by the FMCSA. During these audits, inspectors assess a carrier's safety posture and assist applicants with information concerning U.S. safety regulations and help ensure that these carriers have methods in place to comply with the safety regulations. The United States and Mexico will share safety data generated on both sides of the border in such audits by U.S. officials. Of the 130 Mexico-domiciled motor carriers that have applied to begin cross-border long-haul cargo service into the United States, approximately half are ready for safety audits.

To help ensure safety, Mexican carriers granted authority to operate in the United States beyond the border commercial zones also will receive a formal compliance review within the first 18 months of operation. Carriers that receive and maintain satisfactory compliance ratings will be awarded permanent operating authority at the end of the 18-month period of operating under provisional operating authority.

All Mexican trucks and buses operating in the United States will be required to display a valid Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) inspection decal. These decals, valid for 90 days, indicate a vehicle has passed a safety inspection by a qualified inspector. Likewise, Mexican truck and bus companies will be required to carry U.S. insurance while operating in the United States.

In addition to the 130 Mexico-domiciled motor carriers that have applied to operate beyond the border commercial zones in the United States, 854 Mexico-domiciled motor carriers have applied to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for provisional certificates of registration to operate in the border commercial zones. Of these 854 applicants, the FMCSA has issued provisional certificates to 459.

Since Congress imposed the moratorium in 1982 and until now, most Mexico-domiciled trucks crossing the border into the United States have been restricted to operating in "commercial zones," which are areas surrounding U.S. cities. Commercial zones along the southern border generally extend 3 to 20 miles past the corporate limits of cities, depending on population. Even with the implementation of the truck and bus provisions of NAFTA, most trucks from Mexico will be certified for operating only in commercial zones. In 2001, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were about 4.3 million crossings into the United States border commercial zones from Mexico. According to an estimate based on figures from the late 1990s, these crossings are by about 63,000 Mexican trucks.