Two months after the controversial treadmill-style emissions test became mandatory, state officials yesterday tuned up the testing process, promising motorists a smoother ride -- and continuing the $150 limit on emission-related repairs.
Among the Motor Vehicle Administration's changes, slated to be in place after Oct. 1, are a lift bar to allow cars a nearly bump-free entrance to the treadmill, a television monitor illustrating the test and a personal "greeter" to explain the exam.
Also, those age 70 and over who drive no more than 5,000 miles a year will be exempt from the $12 emissions test -- treadmill or tailpipe -- that must be performed on 2.1 million vehicles every two years.
"We want people to walk away feeling satisfied about the performance," said Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who in May vetoed legislation that would have kept the treadmill test voluntary. "These items are designed to do just that. Our goal has got to be excellence, not just improvement."
His comments came before the state Board of Public Works, which approved the $1.3 million improvements during a lengthy meeting yesterday in Annapolis.
In addition, the board extended by one year the current $9.8 million annual contract with Marta Technologies Inc., a Nashville firm that operates the state's 19 inspection stations, in Baltimore and 13 counties, amid complaints about service in recent years.
But the changes did not go far enough for state Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat, who has often criticized the mandatory treadmill test because of doubts about Marta's ability to test millions of vehicles.
'Should have been done'
"To say they are improving training for the inspectors admits there was a problem," Stone said. "I'm glad to see it's being done. I'm happy about getting some relief for citizens over 70 and keeping the amount to be spent at $150 and installing the lift bars between the treadmill to gently raise and lower the vehicle. It should have been done in the original program."
Yesterday afternoon, MVA Administrator Anne S. Ferro outlined the inspection process changes at a mammoth brick testing station in southwestern Baltimore County, part of a $48 million construction project for Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program (VEIP) facilities.
The enhancements include:
Bars at each station to gently lift vehicles on and off the treadmill. Motorists had complained that the approach to the treadmill was like a large speed bump.
Video monitors to show the emissions being measured, displayed in a way that looks similar to a "Pac Man" video game.
A greeter trained to make the visit to a VEIP station friendlier, in response to complaints about rude employees.
The controversial treadmill test, required for all vehicles starting with model year 1984, is designed to measure exhaust levels of smog-forming hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides while a vehicles' wheels spin on rollers for up to four minutes.
Vehicles that fail that test or the tailpipe test still will be subject to emissions-related repairs, such as a tuneup or a new muffler, totaling no more than $150 -- a cap expected to last through 1999.
If repairs are made and a vehicle continues to fail, the vehicle receives a two-year waiver.
Four-wheel and all-wheel-drive vehicles still will be tested on a four-wheel-drive treadmill at each station.
Ferro also endorsed Marta's ability to perform the emissions tests -- a turnaround from last year when the company's track record was flawed by lengthy wait times and more than $240,000 in state fines for poor performance.
'Hammer and handshake'
"We have now established a strong team approach," Ferro said of the state's new confidence in Marta. "Some would describe it as a hammer and a handshake."
Ferro said the average wait time for an emissions exam has been shaved to five minutes, down from last year's average of more than 10 minutes. She added that Marta has implemented a more stringent written test and a skills exam for employees, which in turn will increase the quality of customer service.
"We heard what customers said, and that was 'fix it,' " she said. "Now we have a good program. A sound program."
Ferro said the treadmill, or dynamometer, will aid the state's efforts to reduce air pollution and benefit Marylanders who suffer from lung disease.
State Secretary of the Environment Jane T. Nishida agreed, saying 71 tons of pollutants will be removed from the air each day because of the treadmill exam.
"I applaud the MVA and the Department of Transportation for their leadership," said Nishida, who added that car exhaust has contributed to recent declarations of Code Red by the state Department of the Environment, a designation of poor air quality in the metropolitan area.
Jerry Carter, president of Marta, described the changes as more psychological than practical.
"It is more about perception," Carter said. "We've made major changes in one year. We're real pleased with today's performance."
Pub Date: 7/31/97