Grace gone

by John G. Smith

MARKHAM, Ont. – It coughed and sputtered out of the starting gate, but Ontario’s Drive Clean emissions program is now a fact of life for heavy trucks that are at least three years old.

A transition period designed to give the province time to find and accredit hundreds of new test facilities officially expired on Jan. 15.

During the transition period that began Sept. 30, those trucks that were three or more years old still required a test, but their owners were given 90 days to track down a test facility after registering plates for the year.

Gone is the grace. If you want to register a truck of that age in Ontario, it must first pass a Drive Clean emission test. And trucks that pass the tests will be required to have a Drive Clean pass report – or a copy of it – in the cab until Jan. 14, 2001.

If it’s simply a copy, however, it has to be marked as “true copy of the original,” and be signed and dated by the vehicle owner, fleet supervisor or driver. And it has to be shown to provincial inspection officers on demand.

At press time, there were 536 facilities capable of testing heavy-duty vehicles, 446 of which were capable of checking diesel equipment, with the remaining 90 focusing on non-diesel-powered trucks and buses. (The latter are, at the moment, only required in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton-Wentworth regions – the same areas where tests are required of cars.)

“Most of them are private shops,” says Drive Clean spokesman Charles Ross. “There are some municipalities, but there aren’t that many for-hire fleets involved (with their own equipment). “

About 600 facilities are expected to be accredited by this spring.

“Some of the northern areas are a little scarce, but they are there,” Ross says of the sites’ geographic distribution.

As of the second week in January, more than 49,000 trucks had already been tested, and 93 per cent passed on their first attempt.

It’s too soon to know how much better the newer trucks actually perform, Environment Minister Tony Clement says. “We’re just starting to analyze the data now.”

Clement is already boasting about how the program has cleaned the province’s air, and on Jan. 10 claimed it to be a success during a photo opportunity with the owner of the millionth vehicle to be tested.

“We can show an improvement in air quality attributed to the program of 6.7 per cent,” he told Truck News.

Environmentalists weren’t quite as congratulatory. They claimed that the program will barely dent smog levels, and asked for the province to pressure states to do the same.

The battle over rules surrounding Drive Clean’s heavy-duty component, however, is far from over. Asks Ontario Trucking Association president David Bradley: “How are we going to deal with out-of-province carriers in terms of the annual program? We want the rules applied to everyone. The Americans didn’t bat an eye when it came to drug testing.”

So far, it’s only the province’s roving Smog Patrols that target trucks from all jurisdictions. And from their launch on April 1 to the end of 1999, they hadpulled over only 3,058 trucks, tested 990 and issued tickets for 425.

An advisory committee has already met five times, and is looking to address program “irritants” by this spring, Clement says. Officials have gone so far as to promise the Ontario Trucking Association that changes will come by April 1.

“We want an aggressive strategy for out-of-province truckers operating in our jurisdiction,” Clement says. But, so far, it’s unknown whether other provinces or states might actually adopt the Ontario model themselves.

Ontario should also consider so-called Fix-It tickets that lead to reduced fines if smoking violations are detected and fixed within a specified period of time, Bradley adds. But don’t look for Clement to back the idea. “We’re pretty committed to our current fine structure,” he says.

For that matter, why are trucks tested annually when cars have to be tested only every two years?

Perhaps thresholds for the model years that must be tested can be extended out, Bradley says. “Any of the newer engines, mid-90s on, perform well.” And perhaps trucks should enjoy the same bi-annual tests as cars, he adds. n

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