Ontario's Drive Clean Progam would achieve close to the same emission reduction and save taxpayers millions by targeting only older cars and testing less frequently, according to a groundbreaking evaluation by University of Guelph researchers.
Prof. John Livernois and PhD student Arian Khaleghi Moghadam of the Department of Economics are the first to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the emission-reduction program.
The provincial program currently costs drivers $131 million a year, and fewer than 10 per cent of vehicles actually fail the test.
“A lot of people have the experience of having their car tested and passing,” said Livernois. “That means they are expending resources and getting nothing in terms of pollution reduction. We’re not saying to tolerate more pollution, but this is a very expensive way of reducing it.”
After examining results from the first three years of Ontario’s Drive Clean Program starting in 1999, Livernois and Moghadam found the province can achieve 70 per cent of emission reduction at one fifth the current cost if it limits testing to vehicles between six and 15 years old.
“We have found you can get a lot of emission reduction with a small amount of testing if you test the right cars,” said Livernois. “Ultimately they should be testing fewer age cohorts than they currently are and be testing them less often.”
Initially vehicles had to begin testing when they were three years old, but that requirement changed to five years in January 2006. Under the current program, vehicles between five and 12 years of age must undergo the test every two years, and vehicles older than 12 must be tested annually.
Livernois and Moghadam found that testing is more effective if it begins when a vehicle is six or even seven years old since the failure rate for vehicles under six years is very low.
Testing is also more effective if it is conducted less frequently.
“It isn’t necessary for owners of older cars to have them tested annually because any repairs made from a fail are likely to last longer than a year,” said Livernois.
Instead, their analysis indicates that if testing is done every two or even three years, nearly the same pollution reduction is achieved at a substantially lower cost.
“The policy should be relaxed,” he said. “It would lead to a little more pollution, but large cost savings. These cost savings could then be allocated to a more effective pollution-reduction program such as better public transit. Pollution control is a good idea, but it should be done in the most effective way.”
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