Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Back to the drawing board

Abstract:
The GAO has uncovered the unreliability of the IM240 system because it is inconsistent in its test results. Cars that are working properly may have to be re-tested at substantial expense to their owners. The EPA is backing the system and threatening to withhold road funds if states do not use it.

Full Text:
All that promised federal lucre for infrastructure comes with strings. Richard D. Wilson, a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency, recently informed several states that the agency will block their federal road money if they don't implement a controversial new emissions inspection system called IM240. The states are balking at IM240 - both because it would cost more than four times as much as the current emissions testing system and because it appears not to work very well.

A General Accounting Office survey of a pilot IM240 program in Hamilton, Indiana, found it inconsistent in its readings. A significant percentage of cars failed the test one time but passed it another. The GAO report concluded also that there is insufficient technical understanding of what needs to be repaired in a car to get it to pass the test. Furthermore, the IM240 testing equipment will be too expensive for normal repair shops to buy. So the scheme will require motorists to go to the test station, then when they fail (expected to be about 30 per cent of the time), get repairs, then return to the IM240 station for retesting, and so on. Statistical probabilities suggest that some motorists will be yoyo-ed back and forth between test and repair stations all day. With $40 or so and maybe an hour involved in each cycle, they are likely to get irritated in the process.

Virginia State Delegate Robert Harris (Fairfax County) says: "You get 20 to 30 per cent of the people rejected, and the political firestorm will be unbelievable." He should know. When the state tried to impose an HOV-3 (High Occupancy Vehicle carrying three persons) lane restriction last year on the Dulles Airport tollroad, there was massive civil disobedience. Virginia commuters not only inundated the government with written protests, but honked their horns at police who pulled over HOV violators and yelled abuse. Finally they boycotted the tollroad altogether. The restrictions were removed within weeks. Whether a remote and self-righteous bureaucracy like the EPA would prove so responsive is, of course, another question.

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