Could AirCare fees be put to better use?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

26 comments

bus regular.jpg
How many of these could $20M in new funding operate every year?

Last week I made my obligatory trip to the AirCare centre to donate $45 for the privilege of having my vehicle's emissions tested. If you're not from Metro Vancouver, AirCare is a government mandated program aimed at reducing pollution in the region. AirCare was first introduced over a decade ago and it was just given a new lease on life when Metro Vancouver politicians agreed they want it extended to at least 2020.

As I was forking over my cash to the friendly AirCare agent, I couldn't help but think what our local transit authority could do with that money instead. Just imagine if AirCare's $20 million dollar operating budget were transferred over to TransLink. How many more buses could be put on the road and would it end up having a similar or better impact on the environment?

We all know public transit systems in almost every major city in Canada are facing financial pressures. There simply isn't enough money to operate all the buses needed to get more people out of their cars and into public transit.

It's for that reason I started wondering if AirCare had run its course and was now simply a feel good exercise that wasn't having the impact it once had. Since the program was first launched, most of those old polluters (aka clunkers) have retired from service and the air in the Metro region has improved dramatically.  AirCare deserves some of the credit for improved air quality. However, even they must admit that our cleaner air probably has more to do with emission technology being put into newer vehicles.

AirCare's critics point to the fact that not only are newer cars emitting fewer pollutants compared to their older predecessors, but the program ignores one of the major causes of smog. Large trucks are exempt from the AirCare testing program and that means they can literally pollute at will. Granted Metro Vancouver has asked the Province to change AirCare's mandate to include the testing of heavy duty vehicles, but this is not a certainty.

I contacted TransLink for their reaction to the concept of shutting down AirCare and transferring those funds into new public transit initiatives. I asked them to provide me with the annual operating costs for one single bus in order that I could see what impact $20M new dollars could have on the system. I never did get the answer to that question, but what I did receive was a big thumbs down to the idea of nixing AirCare in favour of new buses. Here is what TransLink's spokesperson Drew Snider told me:

...we have to remember the reason why we have AirCare: to monitor and keep a lid on one of the principal causes of air pollution in the Lower Mainland. Granted, technology has improved to the point where new cars are less polluting – and in fact, the provincial government recognized that when it changed the regulations a couple of years ago so that cars have to be tested when they’re 7 years old, rather than 5 – but engines and systems eventually get old and fail. What’s more, without a testing requirement, motorists don’t generally altruistically run out and make sure their emissions control systems are working properly. It’s also been shown that many motorists actually tamper with those systems to improve the engine’s performance. The consultants’ report cited random roadside testing in California, where vehicles failed at a higher rate than projected using computer models; many of those vehicles had been tampered with.

There are two other things to consider: the consultants’ report also found that the emission reductions estimated through 2020 would save the health care system $77 million; and if vehicles that operate “clean” coming out of the showroom do not have their emission control systems checked periodically, when those systems do break down, we would see a 40% increase in annual emissions by 2020. So in fact, there are still a variety of benefits to keeping the program around.

It should be noted BC's biggest public sector union loves the AirCare program. That's because they represent the 114+ dues paying members who work in the system. BCGEU stated in a news release:

The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) is welcoming Metro Vancouver’s unanimous recommendation to extend AirCare until 2020, and to enhance the program’s focus on emissions from heavy duty vehicles.

In February 2010, BCGEU also issued a news release announcing they had reached a new collective agreement with AirCare which provided for a 4% pay increase over 2 years. They make no bones about the fact they want to expand the program as a means of keeping these union jobs:

With the current AirCare III Program slated to end December 31, 2011, your Bargaining Committee believes that a top priority for this round of bargaining is to help ensure that the Air Care program continues and perhaps even expands, ensuring continued employment for our members.

If the government wanted to transfer the $20M dollars to TransLink, it could be as simple as tacking on the charge to our current ICBC fees. This way every two years I would continue to pay my $45 bucks, but rather than it going to AirCare, it would help fund new buses and rapid transit projects.

What do you think? Is AirCare a sacred cow that no municipal politician will ever want to get rid of? Are there other ways to invest $20M dollars to get an even bigger bang for the environment? Leave a comment below and join the discussion.

- Post by Daniel

26 Comments

Air Care testing is a cruel joke. A travesty. A green racket. For the past ten years my car passed every test imaginable by these union crooks.
They wanted a passable coefficient of 0.05 (par example) my car passed that with 0.00005!!! Every single time. Starting last year they do not give you the numbers anymore. Too embarrassing. And by the way why would a brand new car need an Air Care Test?
During which time the commercial vehicles...

Michelle,

A brand new car doesn't need an air care test...as stated in the article.

$$ for aircare (and the carbon tax!!!) should go into public transit. It seems like such an obvious use of that money which is why it's likely to never happen. They need to make sure they collect the carbon tax and aircare $$, collected under the guise of improving air quality, so that they can fund new highways. Makes perfect, liberal party sense.

As for the union bit, I don't understand why this is news. Of course they are for it and for protecting union jobs. That's the reason for their existence.

AirCare is nothing more than a money grab.

And you missed one of the pollutants, there is black smoke that gets released from the top of the Courts down at Howe and Smithe.

My office window faced the court offices and I used to wonder what the black billowing smoke was that would spew out several times a day.

It is quite disgusting.

Don't forget that one cruise or tanker ship in Vancouver harbour emits more pollutants in a day than thousands of cars in a year. I don't think they go through aircare and cough up 45 bucks.

I totally agree this money should go to translink asap. Shut down aircare NOW. Maybe one of the liberal candidates will put that in their platform? They'll get my vote.

In fairness I don't think new cars need Aircare but I do agree that it is a requirement that is shoved down motorists throats that is long due for elimination.

I don't find it surprising that the Translink spokesmouth was defending it. After all the revenues do flow to Translink anyways since they are behind this relic. Sure they have to spend it on operating Aircare but it adds to Translink's size and they appear all about taking control of as much as they can around Greater Vancouver. I wouldn't be surprised if they started trying to take over the airports around town and take responsibility for the airport traffic and construction as well.

What is obvious about Translink is that they are never satisfied with the money taxpayers fork over to them. As a matter of fact I am sure that if they get all the money they ever wished for Friday afternoon they would be planning meetings Monday morning finding out other areas they can blow money on so they can go begging to the taxpayers again crying underfunding.

This and carbon taxes are a scam and should end sooner than later.As far as their 77million number i would love to read that phoney paper!!There should be a class action law suit,I want my damn money back,crooks!!!

This is the sort of technocratic question I'm drawn too. There's an empirical answer out there.

I would agree with the underlying premise that AirCare was a program with a shelf life. Have we arrived at point?

I don't honestly know...

To add to boohoo: Unions protect jobs by design. That's there purpose.

...or their purpose, even.

Metro and/or Translink would swallow up that 20 mil faster than PacMan swallowing a dot. Both orgs tax a public that does not elect them. Very wrong. Let's take that 20 mil and use it to run elections for both of these heretofore sinecured principalities.

As a little postscript I drove last night and the fog deposited black greasy grime on my car. Diesel, mainly from buses perhaps...?

Looks like something worth investigating. What would be the simplest way to see if Aircare still serves a purpose or if it should be discontinued? I don't think the money should automatically go to Translink though. It should go to whatever program would do the most to lower pollution in the lower mainland. And as people have pointed out, it would be great to get on top of maritime polution and heavy vehicle pollution.

What about a targeted $20M program to buy up old clunkers every year? That would probably be a huge incentive to get older polluting cars off the road, and give auto dealers a boost? Crazy idea?

Yeah it is crazy.

What are we going to do? Reward everyone who is driving a gas spewing jalopy by buying them a new more efficient car?

As well why do we have to continue trying to stimulate auto sales. There are a lot of other businesses in BC who need stimulating and many sell products that are 100% BC compared to auto sales where profits go back east or out of the country.

My 1990's Camry is greener than a 2010's Prius: Darwin's theory of Mechanical Evolution. Older cars still on the road are, mostly but not all, the more efficient and more capable cars of their era. Many of those still standing are the Camry's, the Corollas (can be converted to e-cars now), NOT the Vegas, Pintos or K-cars.

My clunker passes Aircare without a hitch each year. By driving my so-called 'clunker' a little bit longer I have cost the automobile industry one sale, but lessened the impact on acid rain and climate by one less car manufactured.

AirCare has run its course as it stands on automotives now. Focussing on heavier vehicles may not produce desired results as fleet managers, being cost-conscious and already influenced by subsidies (such as Calstart), are already investing in new hybrid systems such as Eaton and Azure.

Shovelling the money towards other worthy initiatives is an idea whose time has come.

But isn't this just about getting results and protecting the environment? Who really cares how its done as long as it isn't bureaucratic and reduces emissions. I don't think AirCare can do any more than it is now.

This post and the subsequent comments raise pertinent questions. Air Care, like any public policy initiative, needs to be re-examined from time to time. It's current purpose, effectiveness, scope, efficiency, cost, and revenue and its use should be looked at. Alternatives should be compared to it as part of the evaluation process.

I drive a '72 Chrysler, which passes with flying colours every year. Gas consumption is high by modern standards, of course, but then I don't drive much and it has lived out five average car life spans so far, with all that implies for the saved environmental costs of construction and disposal.

The problem here, as in many other places, is commercial diesel engines but, also as elsewhere, these will not be targeted, having more political influence than the private motorist.

Aircare is just another irrelevant pseudo green money maker, like the impending forced replacement of cheap, safe incandescent bulbs with expensive, poisonous mini fluorescents. In the Second World War there was a British slogan, "Make do and mend." Today it is "Get new and spend."

Agreed. The review that was done did not examine alternatives such as using the level of funding required for AirCare to fund transit or other transportation improvements that would reduce reliance on automobiles and thus reduce trips, congestion and pollution.

The cost of AirCare is greater than $20 million a year when the cost of repairs are taken into account. The review estimates the cost of the repairs is around $15 million a year.

Also worth taking into account is the pollution, emissions, congestion, crashes and injuries caused by forcing people to drive to and from AirCare for inspections. That amounts to around 1.2 million trips per year and around 6 million kilometres travelled. This does not include trips for repairs before or after the AirCare inspections.

As TransLink needs more funding for badly needed transit improvements and all the choices will likely make at least a few people not happy, it would be worth considering using the removal of AirCare as a way to build support for this additional funding. People may be willing to pay more to avoid the hassle and time required for AirCare inspections. It is really puzzling why TransLink hasn't considered this.

The AirCare review is at:
http://www.aircare.ca/pdfs/2007-2008-Report-Full.pdf

Transit and other sustainable transportation initiatives are likely a rather effective way of reducing pollution as they enable people who would otherwise be forced to drive old beaters that are big polluters around, to either drive less or to get rid of the old cars all together. One difference I have really noticed in this region as opposed to some American cities, is the really small number of junky old cars on the streets. I expect this is in large part because people of limited means can get around by transit instead of the duct tape mobiles.

The combination of the availability of alternative means of transport with the rising cost of keeping a junker up to Aircare's emission standards are what does it. Without Aircare you would see these poison spewing beaters everywhere.

@Gerry

Do you have any evidence to support that Aircare is the most cost-effective way to keep junkers off the road?

Spot checks are another option.

Or Scrap it programs for that matter.

All OBD-II compliant vehicles can be tested for emissions faults using a handheld device that literally costs less than the price of one test. All vehicles built after 1996 are OBD-II compliant (i.e. nearly all the passenger vehicles on the road today).

You can literally "Aircare" your vehicle by looking on your dashboard. Is you check engine light on? Yes, you will fail Air Care. No, you will pass.

Why do we need a ridiculously expensive centralized testing to perform this simple task? Why can this simple task be performed by at Autoplan agencies for a tiny fraction of the cost?

The technology exists (Dr. Steadman from University of Denver - Accuscan 4600 I think) that can remotely test moving vehicles, take license numbers and give the government the exact read outs of offenders. As always, it is the 90-10 or 80-20 rules, it is the minority offending and they can be tracked. So, take the $40 mil budget, reduce it to a fractions with automation and get more buses/sky trains on the move. And as for the trucks, they can and should be held accountable, the expense is not that great and especially as trucks are being renewed over time if only due to high costs of fuel driving fleets to upgrade to more efficient vehicles. But there is no reason for air care given the available technology for the same job.

The Thought of The Day

"Air Con Care."

Read the following statements.

FREE TRADE Coffee.
ORGANIC Cotton.
FREE RUN Chicken.
EMISSION FREE Car.
ZERO NET ENERGY House.
DUAL LOW FLUSH Toilet.
GEO-THERMAL Heating.
NATURAL Honey.
SOLAR PASSIVE Design.
...

What's common to all?
BULLSHIT Lingo.
They are part of the new Green Long-Con. You are the mark!

'AIRCARE' - the government says they are taking care of the air! Piss off! It's more like, lining their air filed back pockets with cash Care.

Listen to this man now:

"Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all." - Peter Drucker.

'Nuff said.

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

@Glissando

Well, at least I like the quote "Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all." - Peter Drucker.

That sure applies to driving, one of the least efficient activities ever invented. I'll have to remember that one.

Thanks.

Yup
I drive a 15yo car that has not been tuned up in at least 6 years and I pass with flying colours.

However who is looking at the Prius and other hybirds with other mechanical defects such as bad or no brakes

A Head or Chest injury from colliding with a vehicle will kill you faster than asthma

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