Every two years, the notice arrives for the state vehicle emissions test. The eight weeks until the deadline always seem like enough time to make it to a station for the test — until it's the day before and the threat of a fine looms.
But now the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration and Maryland Department of the Environment are attempting to make things easier for all those procrastinators as well as the drivers who can't make it to the stations during their hours. The agencies are rolling out self-service options available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the Glen Burnie Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program station and the Gaithersburg MVA branch.
The kiosks reflect a growing trend toward automated self-service, from cashier-less checkouts at the grocery to touch-screen menus at casual restaurants, said Deputy Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr.
"Even your lunch at Royal Farms, you get it at a kiosk," he said after a news conference Friday.
In addition to the VEIP self-service, the MVA along with the Maryland District Court launched touch-screen kiosks this week that allow users to pay traffic citation fines at MVA locations.
The citation payment kiosks will be available at MVA locations in Annapolis, Baltimore, Beltsville, Glen Burnie and Largo. Users can pay District Court citations, such as tickets forspeeding, seat belt violations, failure to display license on demand, driving without current tags, failure to stop at a stop sign and unsafe lane changes. Once the citation is paid at the kiosk, the MVA will instantly receive a receipt verifying payment, and customers are then able to renew their driver's licenses.
Ports said the kiosks will improve convenience for customers. "You might not be able to make their hours" otherwise, he said, of the VEIP stations.
"The fact the kiosks are self-service and motorists can use it any time they choose are a convenience that many Marylanders will appreciate," said Ragina Cooper-Averella, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Environmental Systems Products of Maryland Inc., a private contractor, will be responsible for day-to-day operations of the VEIP kiosks, state officials said. The machine in Glen Burnie, which opened Friday, cost $50,000 and another $50,000 for installation at the site, officials said.
The new emissions-testing kiosks look similar to an ATM. Users first must scan the emissions notice at the machine, make sure the vehicle information that pops up on the screen is accurate, and then swipe a credit card. From there, users take a yellow test device from a small compartment underneath the screen. They are limited to vehicles manufactured after 2005 and light-duty trucks after 2008, which state officials said make up 58 percent, or about 900,000, of all vehicles tested each year.
The On-Board Diagnostics test device connects to the vehicle's diagnostics computer. In most cars, the connector is located under the dashboard. Once it's plugged in, users turn the car on and wait. The information is downloaded to the kiosk. Users can see on the kiosk screen when the test is done and then remove the device, return it to the kiosk, and take the printed receipt. The process takes five to 10 minutes.
Users will pay the same $14 as those who use the traditional test, but must use a credit card.
Bill Hurlock went to the Glen Burnie VEIPstation on his day off Friday to have his SUV inspected. As he waited behind another vehicle, he said, "If you could do it any time, you could just move in and move out."
Hurlock, of Columbia, said he's also usually the one to make sure his wife's car is taken care of.
"It's a pain because you've got to get it done," he said.
Gwen Taylor of Baltimore was also at the Glen Burnie VEIP station Friday, where she did her first emissions test.
"It was quick and fast," she said, after using the traditional testing done with the assistance of an employee. But she said she's put off taking her car in the past because of time constraints. Usually, she said, she's had someone else in her family take her Chrysler Town and Country minivan.
But she would try the kiosk in the future.
"I would consider using it," Taylor said.
The VEIP self-service kiosk is part of a one-year pilot program. Eight more kiosks are planned and will supplement the 18 VEIP inspection stations across the state for those who want to have emissions testing done the old-fashioned way.
The only other state to have similar self-service stations is Ohio.
"Today's announcement demonstrates how we are expanding available technology to bring the residents of Maryland a faster, more convenient way to do business and help protect the environment — a win-win for all," Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement.
The Federal Clean Air Act requires vehicle emissions testing in Maryland, which was once second to only Los Angeles for the nation's smoggiest air.
This year, the area's air quality has met the EPA ozone standards, but could be out of compliance again if the agency decides to lower the limits, a move that is supported by environmentalists and health officials.
"It's just really important to the environment," said Maryland Department of Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. "Kiosks and other technology will help us make testing easier and easier."