Can we start the AirCare discussion now?

I’m amazed it has taken until now, but it appears that people other than me and free-enterprise spokes-creep Harvey Enchin are starting to notice that the current government of BC wants to kill Air Care, for no good reason.

If you haven’t been paying attention (and why would you, as there has been virtually no public discussion on this topic?), the region’s only transportation air quality program is under the knife because the Premier has decided it doesn’t work anymore. She has no actual evidence that it doesn’t work. In reality, every time there has been an external audit or analysis of the program it has returned evidence that the program is effective (and will be for at least another decade), cost efficient, provides significant economic benefits for small business, and has spin-off benefits for automotive safety and health care savings.

The only argument against AirCare seems to be that it is kind of inconvenient. Apparently, requiring less than 50% of BC’s car owners to go to a testing centre once every two years, spend 15 minutes and pay $45 to demonstrate that their >10-year-old car still has functioning emission controls is a great big hassle, and for that reason our PR-savvy Premier wants to ax the most cost-effective air quality protection measure in the Province.

So at the risk of repeating myself, here are the reasons we should all be against the shuttering of air care:

Local governments: Metro Vancouver has already passed two resolutions asking that the Province not end the program. This makes simple sense: AirCare demonstrably reduces air pollution in the region, and makes our cities cleaner, healthier, more beautiful, and more liveable, while costing local governments nothing. The same goes for the Fraser Valley Regional District, who have been only tacitly in favour of AirCare, despite the disproportionate impact that vehicle emissions have on their communities. Hopefully, our local governments themselves will also join in and request that the Provincial government re-assess this move.

Unions: Some argue this is about 110 union jobs, and that is why this story is currently in the news, but that is a small part of the story. The AirCare program is run by a private contractor, with only a few government employees. There is an administration level, but the majority of the $19 Million program cost does not go to union wages.

Small Business: Auto Repair division: According to independent economic analysis of the program, there is an annual $35 Million economic spin-off effect to the automobile repair industry from AirCare. These are not predominantly Big Union jobs, but mom-and-pop operations across the City, along with a few of the bigger players like Canadian Tire. Simply put, end AirCare, and these people lose income.

Small Business: New Car Dealer division: Because Air Care has resulted in a measurable updating of the domestic car fleet (and this has been measured against other jurisdictions with similar socio-economic settings but without such a program). In other words, people have bought more cars, and according to external audit, this has resulted in an annual $19 Million in benefit to the New Car Dealers of BC. Where are they on this topic?

The Ministry of Health: The measured effects of AirCare on the health of British Columbians – both in reducing air pollutants and in providing for a newer, safer fleet of cars – could add up to $77 Million in health care savings province wide.

Everyone who doesn’t drive, or drives a car newer than 2008: Because the program is 100% self-financing, you get all the air quality, health, and livability benefits of the program without it costing you a dime. Although administered by TransLink, the program neither draws money from the TransLink Budget or provides revenue to it. It is, despite the protestations tax-opinionater-for-hire Jordan Bateman, no tax money is used to run AirCare, this is not a Government cash cow.

Government has been creating some bafflegab about replacing AirCare with a system to get smoky big trucks off the road. We in New Westminster know as well as anyone about the impacts of diesel truck exhaust, and reducing it is a noble goal, but the introduction of such a program does not preclude the existence of AirCare. Instead, Air Care, in it’s proven efficiency, cost effectiveness, and self-funding model, may be the best template upon which to build a heavy truck program. To suggest both cannot run in parallel is to suggest we have a provincial government that cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.

I expect more from a government.

3 comments on “Can we start the AirCare discussion now?

  1. Hi Patrick,

    For reasons we have already discussed I think this program has dubious *marginal* value.

    How much has our air quality improved vs, say, Toronto or Calgary that didn’t have these programs *per mile driven* (apparently vehicular traffic has decreased in Vancouver proper, we can’t assume the same for Toronto or Calgary)? The difference, if any, is the marginal benefit.

    Now is that marginal benefit worth the costs including, yes, the inconvenience (I don’t know about you but I value my time) given alternative programs? (We’ve discussed a car crush program).

    We get similar ICBC self-congratulations regarding the effectiveness of their bate-car program when the main reason for auto theft reduction is the increasingly-widespread, and recently mandated, inclusion of ignition immobilizers (which is why the favourite target for car thieves are older cars. Once again, compare auto-theft rate decreases in regimes that don’t have bait-car programs with ours. I suspect there is little/no difference. But it’s good window dressing.

    Notwithstanding the above and regardless of the benefit, there is a stakeholder dissonance in that law-abiding motorists figuratively fume at the sooty exhaust from seemingly unregulated trucks. In other words, people think, not only is AirCare a PITA (inconvenience in polite speak) the real culprits are seemingly going scott-free.

    Government mandated (US EPA & especially California) vehicular efficiency & pollution improvements will continue as the fleet gets continuously replaced.

    AirCare: Good Riddance

  2. We may need to agree to disagree on this one, Ed, but the data from the independent audits don’t bear out your assertions. I guess this is why we should start the conversation.

    The value (even *marginal*) of the program is not up for debate, as the audit measured the impact of regional air quality not by testing the atmosphere, but by testing the tailpipes. The calculation of the tonnage of NOx, CO, CO2 and complex hydrocarbons removed from our regional airshead by the program. Overall airshead health is not the best measure, especially when compared with Toronto or Calgary, because AirCare can only affect vehicle emissions, it can do nothing about Port operations, trains, home heating, etc.

    But you are falling again into the false dichotomy trap: just because we should be doing something else (dealing with sooty truck exhaust) doesn’t mean we can’t continue to do something that has proven to work, and will continue to work until 2020. It’s like saying now that we have seatbelts we don’t need speed limits.

    The part that stinks so much about this is the public policy decision being made to benefit the “convenience” of a minority of vocal people (fewer than half of the cars on the road need to be tested at all), in opposition to the recommendations made by independent auditors.

    Full disclosure: my 1996 Honda Civic passed AirCare two months ago, and if this program is saved, I will need to pay another $45 in 2015. Other than that, I have no skin in this game. Other than the waste of economic, air quality, and livability benefits that will be lost if the program is scrapped.

  3. I just air-cared our older car – a 1999 Subaru Forester. It was $45, and they hooked a wire up to the computer and started the car, running it for 15 seconds. The cost was a little high for the time spent. They spent more time collecting my payment. The old Jeep ahead of me had to spend 10 minutes being set up, and then driven inexpertly on a set of rollers.

    I think keeping old smoky vehicles off the road is a good thing.

    I’ve noticed that the air-care system also keep track of the mileage driven year over year. As a family that only drives about 8,000KM per year, I grumble at my $1200 basic+comprehensive insurance fees, knowing that I’m paying the same as someone who drives their car triple that.

    For myself, if insurance rates were based (even more) on driving habits, where low usage drivers got a break for the decreased risk of accident, using air-care to do the tracking, it would provide a further justification for keeping the program going.

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