Citing a sharp drop in air pollution from cars that have become ever cleaner, B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake said the provincial government will scrap AirCare emission tests for light vehicles by the end of 2014.
The decision will end a long-standing irritant for many Lower Mainland motorists who saw the program as an unjustified cash grab that cost them $46 every two years.
And Lake also promised fees will be reduced in the last year of the two-and-a-half year phase-out period.
“Times change, technology changes and it’s time for progress,” Lake said, adding the move will save families money.
He pledged a review of the need for emissions testing in future, suggesting the program may be retooled to test heavy trucks or other vehicles, but made no guarantee.
Less than half the regular cars and light trucks on the road currently go through AirCare under the current rules, because of an eight-year exemption period for new vehicles.
Most older cars that are tested pass AirCare without difficulty but those that fail must get a tune-up and re-test to get insurance.
Thirteen per cent of those tested in 2007 failed.
A multi-agency review in 2010 found the air quality benefits and health impacts justified keeping AirCare until at least 2020.
Lake agreed there would be some benefits to continuing, but said they are diminishing.
“Technology appears to be solving its own problem,” he said, adding a shift in focus to diesel-burning trucks, off-road vehicles and even ships may yield bigger air quality and health benefits.
Metro Vancouver’s board voted in 2010 to retain AirCare and the decision was narrowly endorsed by the Fraser Valley regional district board. Both regional boards supported a continuation, coupled with an expansion to test large diesel trucks.
The AirCare program is run by TransLink at a cost of $17.5 million per year, but that money was fully funded from the fees charged.
Not everyone is applauding the decision.
“There’s so many older vehicles out there that we need to make sure are in good operating condition,” said North Vancouver City Mayor Darrell Mussatto. “If it affects the quality of our airshed, I have some concerns about it.”
David Cumming, an AirCare inspector and one of 114 unionized employees whose jobs may be gone, called it a “backward step” that may lead to more pollution in the region’s constrained airshed.
He said the decision means there will be no check to keep older vehicles clean or to prevent some drivers from tampering with pollution controls.
But Lake said increasingly computerized vehicles means it’s less likely drivers will dismantle emission control systems to try to save gas.
“I don’t know very many people who do that,” he said. “When I look under my hood I don’t know what’s what any more. It’s all computerized, the technology is so far advanced I think that will happen less and less.”
Lake credited Metro Vancouver’s leadership, saying the regional district’s newly imposed fees on older off-road diesel equipment will spur owners to upgrade and reduce emissions.