Mandatory emissions testing for most older vehicles will be a thing of the past in 2015 with the end of AirCare.

End of era as AirCare stations shut down

Cleaner vehicles cited as Lower Mainland emissions testing program scrapped

It’s the end of an era for drivers of older vehicles in the Lower Mainland.

AirCare stations will shut down for good on New Year’s Eve and come 2015 motorists will no longer line up to pay for mandatory emissions testing.

The requirement in order to get vehicle insurance in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley was widely seen by drivers as a costly nuisance, particularly as cars got cleaner and most vehicles passed without being forced to get a tune-up.

But defenders argue the provincial government was wrong to scrap the TransLink-operated program.

“We know air quality from vehicles has improved over the last 10 or 15 years because we’ve been monitoring vehicles,” said Vancouver Coun. Heather Deal, chair of Metro Vancouver’s environment and parks committee.

“It was a mistake to discontinue this program. It will endanger the incredibly positive impacts it’s had over the years.”

The province’s environment ministry cited “great progress” in reducing air pollution from light duty vehicles as emissions technology improved and noted the AirCare failure rate has fallen from 14 per cent in 2007 to less than eight per cent.

No new program has been announced to replace AirCare, but the province is expected to release a discussion paper in the spring on possible options to cut pollution from heavy trucks.

Deal said she’s hopeful something new comes to tackle diesel trucks because Metro testing on roads has found alarming emissions from some “gross emitters.”

Dave Gourley, general manager of AirCare, said he “absolutely” believes Lower Mainland residents have breathed easier because AirCare enforced pollution limits for 22 years.

He notes nearly one million vehicles failed AirCare tests at some point since the program began in 1992. Most were repaired and returned to the road cleaner, while some others got early retirement.

So far this year more than 34,000 vehicles have failed AirCare, although that’s down from a peak of around 120,000 vehicles a year in the mid-1990s.

“The technology changed and the cars can more or less diagnose themselves,” Gourley said, making AirCare less relevant in recent years, at least in its current form.

“It’s hard to make an argument in favour of it,” he said. “I can’t honestly say anybody is going to die or the sky is going to turn brown.”

He said it’s too soon to say if enough drivers will now ignore check engine lights to significantly worsen vehicle pollution and air quality.

AirCare’s end here leaves just urban Ontario’s DriveClean program in Canada, although there are more than 30 similar emission control programs in the U.S., with some new ones still being added.

The program is revenue-neutral, with fees only used to cover the program expenses – $16 million in 2014.

Newer vehicles are exempt from testing and fees have been reduced this year.

Motorists whose insurance expires in the dying days of 2014 have a couple of options to avoid a final AirCare test.

One way is to not renew the policy until 2015 and perhaps take transit or find other ways to get around for a couple of days.

Gourley says drivers can also get short-term or temporary insurance from ICBC to bridge them over to early 2015.

For those who stick to tradition, AirCare staff will be on duty until 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“The doors will roll down around that time and that will be the end of an era.”

But even with AirCare gone and gasoline prices down, motorists face other rising expenses in 2015.

An ICBC rate hike means the average motorist will pay $40 more in 2015 for basic insurance, if regulators approve the increase.