AirCare defenders hope for reprieve

Vehicle testing program set to be scrapped next year

Critics of the plan to scrap AirCare testing warn it will mean an increase in heavily polluting vehicles on the roads.

Metro Vancouver directors will again urge the provincial government to continue the AirCare program, which is slated to be dismantled at the end of next year.

They voted at Thursday’s environment and parks committee meeting to draw up a new staff report that may offer up fresh ammunition for preserving the tailpipe emission testing stations that force heavily polluting vehicles to get fixed.

“Whenever you go to a municipality or anyplace that doesn’t have AirCare you see vehicles with billowing smoke coming out, ” Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters said.

“You really see how protected we are in the Lower Mainland with AirCare.”

Metro voted three years ago to support extending AirCare until at least 2020, but that was rejected last year by the provincial government, which announced the program would be wound down at the end of 2014.

Vancouver Coun. Heather Deal, who chairs the committee, said she strongly supports maintaining AirCare because modern cars, despite much improved pollution controls, can still have emission failures.

As of 2010, the failure rate at AirCare was 22.3 per cent for pre-1995 vehicles and 7.4 per cent for 1995-2003 vehicles (newer models are exempt from testing.)

Owners of older vehicles must pay $46 every two years for testing but lower fees are expected in the final year of the program.

The provincial government says air pollution from cars has declined as technology improves and the mandatory tests no longer provide the benefit they once did.

Also campaigning to keep AIrCare – and its 110 union jobs  – are officials with the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union.

Union spokesperson Stephanie Smith predicts a rise in pollution if the program is scrapped.

“We know light vehicles are the largest contributor to smog-producing pollutants as well as ground-level ozone,” she said.

A BCGEU-led report warns there could be significant backsliding as old smoke-belching vehicles are put back on the road and motorists neglect their cars’ emission controls or even disable them to improve performance.

AirCare is run by TransLink but the $17.5-million annual cost of running testing centres is entirely borne by motorists through fees, so killing the program would not save TransLink or the government any money.

Metro is also continuing to push for an AirCare-like program to target heavy trucks.