VANCOUVER, B.C. – B.C.’s AirCare On-Road program is being resurrected after being scrapped in 2002 due to a lack of funding.
The program, previously run by the Insurance Corp. of B.C. (ICBC), will receive new life thanks to funding from TransLink, the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) and the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. The cost of getting the program back up and running is estimated at $110,000, while annual operating costs will be about $260,000.
Already, one mobile testing unit has been put back into service. It is currently being used to test vehicles that carriers volunteer as guinea pigs. A second mobile testing unit will also be back on the road shortly, says Steve Parkinson, co-ordinator of the AirCare On-Road program.
“We’re already doing some outreach-type testing with fleets but we won’t be doing any enforcement until sometime around the beginning of April,” says Parkinson, adding the exact date has yet to be determined.
The program targets commercial vehicles that are visibly emitting black smoke. A roadside opacity test (taking about 15 minutes) is conducted, and vehicles that fail the test must then be brought up to snuff, or else they will not be eligible for renewal.
Opacity tests are conducted using a probe which measures the amount of light blocked by the smoke emitted through the smokestack. A 1991 model year or newer truck must meet an opacity standard of 40 per cent to pass, while older vehicles pass with a grade of up to 55 per cent. Those vehicles that fail the test will have to be repaired, and eventually fines will be levied to the drivers or owners.
“At the outset of the enforcement phase of the program, we’ll issue what are called Emissions Notice and Orders and those give the vehicle owner 30 days to have the vehicle repaired,” explains Parkinson. “If the vehicle is not repaired within 30 days, a refusal to issue sanction is placed against their licence and registration.”
After an educational period it is expected fines will be placed against non-compliant vehicles, but Parkinson insists “There will not be fines for failing pollution tests when the program first starts out.”
All trucks operating in the GVRD or the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) must adhere to the program, regardless of their point of origin.
“If (carriers) are operating within our regions of the GVRD and FVRD, then it doesn’t matter where they’re from, they have to pull over and submit to the inspection,” Parkinson says.
Many of the inspections will take place at weigh scales. But random locations will also be selected. Emergency vehicles may also be used to pull over visibly smoking trucks.
Paul Landry, president of the B.C. Trucking Association, says the AirCare On-Road program is a fair way of enforcing emissions standards, although he’s quick to point out that today’s truck engines are cleaner than ever.
“This represents an opportunity to identify heavily-smoking vehicles and take action against them and that has to be good for the industry,” he says. “There’s no question that heavily-smoking vehicles offend the public and create demand for intrusive AirCare inspection programs.”
Landry adds: “This approach allows enforcement officials to deal with non-compliant vehicles regardless of their origin. If they’re coming in from the U.S., so be it, they could get stopped and face the consequences.”
The program is also consistent with similar programs in other jurisdictions along the West Coast – particularly in California, Landry points out. Be that as it may, the AirCare On-Road program wasn’t without critics on its first go-round. Some skeptics questioned the program’s effectiveness as drivers with non-compliant trucks could easily escape notice by letting off the throttle while driving past AirCare’s mobile units. The first AirCare On-Road program died a rather unceremonious death in 2002 after ICBC was downsized.
At that time, the Vancouver Sun obtained records which indicated only 17 trucks were inspected between November 2001 and May, 2002.
That compares to 512 trucks that were tested the previous year. The program was launched in 1999.
ICBC was providing $500,000 per year in funding at the time, but it withdrew its funding saying the program didn’t fit into the Crown corporation’s insurance and road safety mandate.
Still, estimates suggest one tonne of particulate matter (PM) was removed from the atmosphere for every $312 spent under the program.
The fact ICBC is no longer involved in the program in any way is the most significant change, says Parkinson. He insists roadside testing will be done in an efficient manner so truckers can get back on the road as quickly as possible.
“We try to inconvenience the vehicle operator and the fleet owner as little as possible,” he says.
“We pull over the vehicle and do a very quick visual check and if the vehicle is at or above the prescribed standards then we’ll subject it to a full inspection and that takes less than 15 minutes to do.”
Fleets that would like to have their vehicles tested at no cost before the enforcement phase begins can call AirCare at 604-435-7664.