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.
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