AP Photo/Tony Guterrez, file
Yesterday, I talked about the recently released Inspector General audit of FMCSA and some of the results they found in having the FMCSA bring certain standards up to expectations. Today, We look at some of these findings and what they actually say within the context of safety, border security and meeting requirements for NAFTA. And what we see is that the United States system is so poorly operated that expecting Mexico to ever meet the written standards is nearly impossible:
The report says FMCSA made substantial progress in carrying out improvements requested of them. Sounds good, right? Except when you really read it, you see they didn't really do anything except hire and supposedly train some employees to do inspections. The Inspector Generals office should get an A+ for office politics on this one. The true facts take reading between the lines to see what it actually says. The whole thing looks like when you used to tell your kid to clean his room and nothing got done. So, you broke it down into incremental steps, like: Pick up all toys. Put toys in toy box. Make bed. With sheets. Get broom from kitchen. Sweep floor, etc, etc, etc. By the time they got anything done, YOU were worn out!
The key to the whole fiasco is in the things they DIDNT get done. . . or only half-did. Like Number 6: “Having adequate capacity at southern border to conduct meaningful inspections”. The IGs audit report summary only hints at the problems involved in meeting this requirement: “--Substantially met the criteria. The capacity to perform truck, bus, and driver inspections are in place, but FMCSA needed to include bus inspections during peak hours, such as holiday periods, at Laredo, Texas”.
If you read the entire document, you find that they supposedly have the inspectors necessary to inspect commercial buses but don’t have the facilities to do so. Some crossings don't have lighting so they cant inspect at night. Most crossings have no place for inspectors to get under buses or for passengers to wait without being in traffic, so they don't inspect when the crossing is busy. This includes holidays. Inspections are lacking most often at Calexico and San Ysidro in California and Laredo and McAllen-Hidalgo Bridge in Texas – undoubtedly the busiest crossings. Any driver who’s ever witnessed the annual Paisano run to and from the border over Christmas knows there’s a steady stream of buses crossing at these checkpoints 24/7. Part of the problem stems from the fact that all facilities are at major truck crossings, not other non-commercial crossings where buses also regularly cross. Once again, it looks like one step forward and two steps back. ( “Billy, where are your dirty socks? In my pillowcase. Why are they there? You told me to pick them up! Why didn't you put them in the hamper? Jimmy’s gerbil is in there”.)
Texas has had an on-going problem with passenger bus safety both within the state and cross-border. A report in the Houston Chronicle last year quoted TxDOT spokesperson stating two of every five Texas charter bus companies have been ordered off the road in the last two years. Texas has had over 250 death relating to the operation of unsafe passenger buses and drivers. A series of articles in the Chronicle detailed some of the on-going problems, one of which was that many of the buses should never have been legal to operate in the United States at all: imported buses not meeting US manufacturing and safety standards have been imported and registered using a system of subterfuge. Buses are initially licensed in California where a listed owner is not needed for registration, then re-registered in Texas based on the California registration-all without certification that they meet standards. James Pinkerton and Terri Langford have done a very thorough series of articles at the Chronicle on the on-going illegal bus saga. Unfortunately, this series does not appear to be available as a Special Report but most of the articles can be found using the search function.
The lists of charter bus companies running below the radar, using used buses purchased by recent immigrants without experience and circumventing the laws for safety checks, insurance, registrations and driver qualifications appears to be never-ending. Buses put out of service one day show up the next, under another business name and using the same drivers and the same substandard equipment. Buses cited at one company show up in another company’s fleet within days. The vast majority of them are involved in cheap cross-border transport of working-class migrant workers but have also been used for charter operations and school transport. Other problems are a continuing history of these buses transporting drugs into the United States, no insurance while traveling in Mexico and use of illegal and unsafe equipment and unqualified drivers.
Since its obvious that there is a serious problem with these cross-border buses regardless of USDOT authority, you would think that inspecting these buses diligently at the border would be a priority. In fact, stringent border inspection would likely identify these problem operators and provide the opportunity to put them out of business once and for all. The problem with missed inspections at the border has as much to do with assuring a safe system in the United States as it has in enforcing cross-border regulations. It also points to the fact that our so-called safe system of enforcement has holes plenty big enough to drive a fleet of buses through – at least in the border states.