April 4, 2008

Program Has Not Been Successful for Mexican Truck Drivers

By Mariana Martínez

Mexican truck drivers are now being allowed to drive in the US as part of a pilot program, where English proficiency is a requirement.

But just six months into the program it is under attack by US truckers unions, members of congress and even some businesspeople and Mexican truckers, who admit the program has not been successful.

During the first revision meeting of the program, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-DN), said Mexican truckers can answer questions in written quizzes in Spanish, posting the question of whether or not they actually speak English.

Dorgan, who opposes the program from the start, citing security concerns, has accused president Bush of not being strict enough with Mexican truck drivers.


German Barnard is a driving school professor showing the sign chart they use to teach drivers. Behind him, Moises Vargas, a trucker hoping to get his binational licence to be able to drive in the US.

German Vega Briones Ph.D. is a researcher at Colef, a Public Policy reaserch center in Tijuana, who considers the US should not have any problem with people taking examinations in other languages because this is common practice.

“But the real issue is in part the power struggle with the transport sector…it seams that transport is a niche of the market Americans what to reserve for themselves,” Vega added.

Representative of the Nacional Chamber of Truckers in Baja California and Comercial Driver School director, Rogelio Badillo, considers the problem lies in the fact that the Department Of Transportation (DOT) has not defined what “English proficiency” means.

“They let it all up to the inspectors. Most Mexican truckers know how to answer the questions and show the proper documents, they say what they are carring, their destination, licence, log and permits. They may not be able to have a conversation, but that’s different,” said Badillo.

According to the DOT webpage, only 58 Mexican companies have asked for and obtained authorization to be in the program, a far smaller number than the 100 companies expected to participate with over one thousand vehicles.

“The lack of participants is because the opening of the borders was expected to lower

the costs of transportation,” Badillo explained.

“But in order for me to be allowed to drive in the US I have to spend about 6 grand, an investment I have to divide by the number of trips I make, an average of 40 for most truckers, while I can make about 200 of the border trips without any investment,” he added.

The Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce director, Alejandra Miér y Teran agrees participation has not been what was expected.

“Truckers need a network that allows them to have clients both ways of the trips,” she explains. “That network is currently very weak; therefore a lot of drivers don’t have a lot of profit left when making long trips.”

Besides the high investment needed and lack of a client network, some drives talk about a recent and growing problem; the rising cost of diesel in the US, making US truckers strike all over the country.

According to Tijuana trucker Filiberto Tamayo, with 15 years experience, the price of a galon of diesel in Tijuana is still around 2 bucks while it reached 4.20 in San Diego this week.

“So for a trip to Michigan where I make around 500 bucks, I have to invest it in diesel and even worse if I cant get a client for the return,” said Tamayo, “but if I take a lot of loads short distances I can go back to Mexico to fill up the tank and be close to my family.

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