The Air Care Landmine

I work in Richmond, but do most of my actual living in New Westminster, so I am reluctant to get too involved in the politics on the downstream end of Lulu Island.

However, when I read a recent Editorial Piece in the Richmond Review (sister paper to our own NewsLeader and the Peace Arch News, where there is a electronic version available), I had to react. I wrote a longer piece on AirCare way back when the current public relations campaign to get rid of it started up, as part of a longer rant about the myopic old-school viewpoint of one Harvey Enchin.

Long and short, AirCare is a successful program that is cost-effective and will be until at least 2020. The only argument against it is that it is inconvenient – in that once every two years, less than 50% of drivers have to take 15 minutes out of their day and pay $45 to demonstrate that their car has an operating emissions control system. Boo freaking hoo.

So here was my response letter to the Richmond Review Editor.

I recognize the Editorial section is where opinions are expressed, but isn’t journalistic opinion supposed to rest on a foundation of fact?

In your editorial, you make statements that sound like fact, such as “Air Care hasn’t really been necessary for some time” or “There simply aren’t enough older vehicles on the road to make the expensive and bureaucratic program necessary”, or “random enforcement is best”, but indicate what these opinions are based upon. As a multi-agency program review of AirCare completed less than two years ago concluded the system was effective, efficient, and would continue to provide measureable air-quality benefits to the region until at least 2020, it seems the facts available are the opposite of your assertions.

When you characterise AirCare as “nothing more than a cash-grab from the government”, it is at odds with the fact AirCare is self-supporting, uses no tax dollars to operate, and transfers no money to its lead agency (TransLink). Compare that to the “random enforcement” strategy you propose, which will require taxpayer-funded officers to issue tickets, enforceable through the taxpayer-funded courts, to collect fines that will go to General Revenue.

Cancelling AirCare is a bad decision based not on good policy, but election-time pandering, because protecting our airshed is “inconvenient” to a portion of the population. I am, of course, editorializing; but I would love to see some facts to change my mind.

The fact that AirCare will not be cancelled until 2014, and that the proposed commercial vehicle “replacement program” has not been described in any detail suggest to me this is, in fact, a landmine being dropped by the BC Liberals. It has a bit of curb appeal, might get them a few votes, but in reality, it just puts the winner of the next election in a difficult situation. They will need to dismantle the system (which will be costly, and result in worsening air quality) or try to keep it running against public outcry (because the current government has poisoned the well, despite AirCare being good policy). This is, in many ways, no different than the recently announced limit to BC Hydro rate increases that bypassed the Utilities Commission.

What other landmines lie in waiting before we get to May, 2013?

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