Holes in the auto exhaust system Stalled treadmills: Year's delay needed to study problems with emissions inspections.

January 21, 1996

FOR THE SECOND YEAR, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has responded to problems with Maryland's auto emission inspection program by seeking a one-year postponement of the controversial treadmill-testing of vehicles. That's a prudent course, given the continuing problems at the 19 stations run by the private contractor, MARTA Technologies Inc. of Nashville, Tenn.

This time, the governor should wisely use the delay for a thorough re-examination of this expensive auto testing program, which was pushed through in the last month of the lame-duck Schaefer administration.

Complaints of hour-long waits at inspection stations persist, even though the contractor is performing shorter inspections than specified in the contract. Problems with emissions analysis software are admitted by the state. The test fee is 65 percent higher than in 1994, for little change in the exhaust inspection. State officials worsened matters by sharply cutting business hours at these stations from the original six-day-a-week schedule.

The public still has not accepted the idea of a dynamometer test, in which station employees "drive" an inspected car over a treadmill at speeds up to 55 miles an hour. State environmental and transportation officials must decide if this controversial test, which has generated so much public ill will, is worth the purported gain in air quality.

Behind the pressure for tighter auto inspection is the threat that tougher emission rules might be imposed on the business community. But commuter-curb plans for business, announced by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce vehicle pollutants, have been shelved under pressure from Congress.

The governor and General Assembly should agree to the year's delay in treadmill tests, while working to see what is technically, practically and politically feasible for the future. Maryland needs the benefit of cleaner auto exhausts, but testing should be user friendly if it is to be widely supported by the public.

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