By the end of 2014, Lower Mainland drivers will no longer need to get their cars AirCared – but heavy-duty commercial trucks might.
Following a review of the 20-year-old vehicle emissions testing program, B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake Thursday announced it would be phased out for passenger vehicles.
The program was set up in 1992 to reduce smog in the Lower Mainland, and only drivers with vehicles registered here have had to participate. The program has done its job, Lake said.
“Every year, fewer and fewer vehicles are failing,” Lake said.
Cars are becoming cleaner, and the AirCare program has been increasingly criticized as an unnecessary “tax-grab,” even though no tax dollars go into the program.
Every two years, owners of newer vehicles must pay $46 to get their cars tested at an AirCare depot. Cars made in 1991 or earlier must be tested every year, at $23 per test.
In 2002, there were 127,000 failures. That dropped to 59,000 failures in 2007 and 40,000 last year.
According to a recent review of the program, the B.C. government concluded that even that many failures meant that the health-care costs resulting from air pollution still made the program valuable.
“With a total of approximately 40,000 failures expected this year and a predicted number of some 35,000 in 2015, I would say that the natural death of the AirCare program is still some way off,” Dave Gourley, general manager for AirCare, wrote in a March 19, 2012 letter to the editor in the Surrey Leader:
But Lake said Thursday there are “other sources” of particulates that his government could focus on reducing – including the commercial trucking sector, the marine sector and off-road machines and generators that burn diesel for things like road construction.
One of the irritations of the AirCare program for ordinary Lower Mainland drivers is that commercial trucks – most of which are diesel – have never had to participate in the AirCare program, despite the fact diesel spews out more particulates than regular gasoline engines.
Lake has hinted recently that that might change, which worries Louise Yako, president of the BC Trucking Association.
The association represents 1,200 vehicles, 60% of which are registered in the Lower Mainland. These trucks are already subject to roadside spot checks.
It’s not so much the fee charged for AirCare tests that worries Yako as the time it takes. Vehicle owners typically need to take up to two or three hours out of their workday to drive to an AirCare station and have their vehicles inspected and tested. That would cost the average commercial truck driver $40 to $80 in lost time, Yako said.
“That would add up quickly,” she told Business in Vancouver.
As the AirCare program winds down, Lake said his government will spend the next six to 12 months consulting with sectors like the trucking and marine industries to determine where the biggest problems are with respect to emissions.
Asked if the AirCare program will remain in place, with commercial trucks added to it, Lake said: “It’s possible. We don’t want to pick on any one sector. These are challenging economic times so we don’t want to get in the way of business.”
But he went on to say the diesel burned in commercial trucks is a concern.
“We know that diesel particulates have a type of contaminant that is a far greater risk to human health than that coming from light-duty vehicles.”
He said newer diesel trucks and hybrid burn cleaner.
“There’s also a lot of older heavy duty vehicles on the road,” he added. “And everyone who’s followed an older dump truck down the road knows that you get a lot of black and blue stuff coming out of the stack every once in a while.
“That’s what we need to do – look at the technology that’s out look there, at the fleet that’s out there, and see if we can design a better program to make better incremental changes there.”
Since its inception, AirCare has conducted 15 million vehicle inspections. AirCare takes in about $19.5 million per year and is mandated to be revenue neutral. The program employs 150 people.