ANNAPOLIS – More than six months after the start of the Maryland Vehicle Emission Inspection Program (VEIP), long lines at inspection stations, software glitches and worker training issues are still surfacing, and lawmakers are hearing from angry constituents.
Most recent letters and calls have come from people who were told to come back another day or sent to other test stations because of extended waits at White Oak in Montgomery County, the Bel Air station in Harford County and Baltimore City’s Erdman Avenue station.
Computer program malfunctions have resulted in downtime and erroneous notices to owners of 1995 vehicles, said Ronald L. Freeland, motor vehicle administrator.
“We’ve got a system that is partially operational,” Freeland told lawmakers this week. “We’re tweaking it to make it work.”
In a hearing Tuesday before the House Environmental Matters Committee, Freeland called for a strong, positive public information program. But lawmakers would have none of it.
“I’m concerned that we’re coming up to another season without a real good report card on what’s going on out there,” said Chairman Ronald A. Guns, D-Kent.
VEIP was one of the hottest issues of the 1995 General Assembly session. Legislators suffered several months of complaints from motorists who opposed doubling the test fee and more stringent procedures. Of particular concern were requirements for hose disconnection and use of a dynamometer, a treadmill-type device that simulates normal operating conditions and measures pollutants more accurately.
In response, lawmakers postponed the dynamometer tests and kept the old tailpipe tests. VEIP literature, however, encourages the public to sample the four-minute dynamometer test voluntarily.
But Del. Leon G. Billings, D-Montgomery, was refused that test during a recent visit to the White Oak station with his 1991 Toyota.
“They knew I was a delegate because they refused to give me the dynamometer test,” Billings told his colleagues, who chortled in the hearing room.
When he insisted, workers did perform the test for 14 seconds, but did not open the hood of his car to inspect for oil and coolant leaks or visually check tire pressure as required by law.
When Billings questioned the station manager about the brevity of the test, he was told that the previous car had “left” the dynamometer, nearly running over a station attendant. As a result, workers were reluctant to use the apparatus.
Billings also said the vehicle in front of him, an old Datsun pick-up, had taken the tailpipe test three times in order to pass, rather than the permitted two.
“Does any of that suggest that something’s wrong?” Billings asked.
Officials from VEIP and the emissions program contractor said they had no reports of such incidents. They noted that special wet weather precautions should prevent mishaps.
Even so, lawmakers urged them to straighten out problems before the beginning of the 1996 legislative session.
“I want you to make a complete search of all stations…for any instances of vehicles jumping off the dynamometer,” Guns said.
Emissions testing has been required since the 1980s in states with pervasive air quality problems, to reduce air pollutants from vehicle exhaust and fuel evaporation. When such pollutants “cook” during summer months, high levels of ground- level ozone occur, resulting in poor air quality.
According to VEIP data, the program began testing vehicles in May and was fully operational by October, testing 5,200 vehicles a day. Approximately 10 percent of those vehicles failed, requiring an average $103 in repairs. -30-