TORONTO – Ontario drivers could soon get their vehicle emissions tested remotely.
A $30 fee was scrapped in last year’s provincial budget for the much-maligned Drive Clean program that tests emissions every two years on cars and light-duty trucks over seven years old, but critics have called for the program to be scrapped entirely.
Ontario’s Liberal government is now proposing a pilot project that would allow testing remotely through on-board diagnostics.
“The goal of the pilot would be to improve customer convenience and to offer more choices to the public when it comes to vehicle emissions reductions,” environment ministry spokesman Gary Wheeler said in a statement.
Drive Clean test providers could gather emissions data remotely using a device that is plugged into – and remains in – a vehicle’s on-board diagnostic port. The information gathered would be sent electronically to the province when the vehicle is due for a test, Wheeler said.
The government said data gathered will be used only for the purpose of emissions test evaluations, fraud prevention and providing an emissions test result.
Participating vehicle owners could get the device by visiting a test centre. Test providers could also distribute the devices by mail or team up with a retail location. The tester could also use a handheld emissions testing device on site, Wheeler said.
That seems “perhaps not overly convenient at the end of the day,” said Progressive Conservative transportation critic Michael Harris.
“Drive Clean has outlived its usefulness and should be scrapped altogether,” he said.
But the government still believes it provides a valuable service.
“Drive Clean contributes significantly to the reduction of emissions that cause poor air quality, cutting emissions from vehicles by about one-third and ultimately contributing to cleaner air,” Wheeler said.
Harris said, however, that he is “leery” whenever the Liberal government rolls out a new software program.
A number of digital systems the province has embarked upon in recent years, such as the Social Assistance Management System, eHealth, a Court Information Management System and a Child Protection Information Network have either been much delayed, come in well over budget and/or needed to be scrapped entirely.
Drive Clean has previously come under fire for amassing multi-million-dollar surpluses, even though it was supposed to be a revenue neutral program. Ontario’s former auditor general warned in 2012 that could land the province in legal hot water, because it’s a user fee, not a tax.
Eliminating the Drive Clean fee costs the province $60 million a year, the government has said.
For the pilot, which is expected to start some time in the fall and run for one year, the government will pay accredited remote testers $10 per pass result, according to notes of a ministry conference call obtained by The Canadian Press.
But Wheeler could not provide an estimate of how much the pilot will cost to run, as the ministry doesn’t yet know how much interest there will be.