ANNAPOLIS – Nearly two months after mandatory treadmill testing became required for most Maryland cars, few vehicles have been damaged and wait times have been short, state officials said Tuesday.
Speaking before the House Environmental Matters Committee, Motor Vehicle Administration Administrator Anne S. Ferro said “the transition from a voluntary to a mandatory test has gone smoothly.” Driving the easy change, she said, are improved testing facilities and better-paid and trained staff.
The test hasn’t caused widespread damage to cars as the programs detractors claimed it would, Ferro said. After testing about 36,000 vehicles on the controversial treadmill, the contractor has settled five claims for minor types of damage.
And even in high-volume testing stations, Ferro said, “When a vehicle comes in, there’s no one in front of it.” According to the MVA, the average wait has been less than a minute.
Maryland began its expanded emissions testing Oct. 1, requiring it for all cars made after 1984. The test places vehicles on a treadmill where testing personnel operate it at simulated driving speeds.
The governor vetoed a bill last General Assembly session that would have the treadmill test a voluntary option to the existing tail pipe test. His action left in place a 1995 law requiring the treadmill test.
The testing program is checking about 10,000 cars every week — about 50 percent of capacity, Ferro said. She expects testing to reach 100 percent sometime early next spring.
But critics of mandatory testing say the update means very little at this point.
“My major concern … is that the presentation was premature,” said Del. Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, adding that “until we get to 100 percent, these numbers don’t mean anything.”
And to the MVA’s claims of few cases of vehicle damage, Del. Martha Klima, R-Baltimore County, said “we don’t have the other half of the equation.” A leading opponent of the mandatory testing, she said she wants to know how many claims of damage have been received and then rejected.
Officials of MARTA Technologies, the company the performs the testing for state, were unavailable to comment on its operations.
Ferro listed several changes as the keys to the programs success:
* Installation of liftbars, which ease the car onto the treadmill and lessen the chance of damage, Ferro said. Currently, about 82 percent of the two-wheel drive testing lanes have the liftbars, according to MVA statistics. Ferro said she expects all facilities to have liftbars by the beginning of next year.
* Increases in pay and benefits to testing employees ensure “that we have very solid employees,” Ferro said. A 50-cent hourly pay raise and a decrease of the employee’s share of health insurance have decreased turnover from 20 percent to about 4 percent, she said.
The testing program has also expanded its use of customer greeters, who explain to car owners what’s going on with the test, Ferro said.
News of the program’s purported success was well received by legislators who supported the mandatory treadmill testing.
“I have not received on single complaint” about the testing, said Leon G. Billings, D-Montgomery. Del. James W. Hubbard, D-Prince George’s, said the bottom line of the treadmill test is that “we’re going to have cleaner air.” -30-