Agency tries to fight fear of emissions device Coupon is offered as incentive for dynamometer test


Attention coupon clippers: The state is offering $2 off a controversial vehicle emissions test.

The coupon is one of several changes that officials hope will combat public apprehension about the Maryland Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program.

The coupon is valid only on the dynamometer, a treadmill-like device that provoked a public outcry when introduced last year. State transportation and environmental officials said yesterday they hope the savings will entice more Marylanders to volunteer their cars for testing on the dynamometer.

The goal is to increase public acceptance of the device, which provides a more accurate and comprehensive measure of the gases that cause air pollution, state officials say. Emissions testing is key to the state's efforts to reduce smog in the Baltimore and Washington areas, as required by federal law.

The dynamometer was supposed to become mandatory for cars and light trucks in 13 counties and Baltimore last year. But complaints about the test itself, long waits at stations, and problems with testing equipment delayed that plan.

The state's 19 emission testings stations yesterday began dedicating at least one lane to the dynamometer test. "In the past, some people didn't volunteer for the test because they thought it would take longer" than the older tailpipe test, said Transportation Secretary David L. Winstead.

In response to customers, the stations have begun opening Mondays, with somewhat shorter hours Tuesday through Saturday.

Officials also will include a colorful brochure that explains the dynamometer when mailing test notices. The regular testing fee is $12.

During the dynamometer test, the motorist waits while a technician drives the vehicle on the "treadmill" at speeds of up to 55 mph. People have balked at the idea of surrendering their keys to technicians, and some believe the test will damage their cars.

Responding to public pressure, the state legislature decided the test will not become mandatory until June, allowing motorists to choose the tailpipe emissions test.

In the meantime, state officials have been encouraging volunteers for the dynamometer, with limited success.

About 58,600, or almost 5 percent, of the 1.2 million emissions tests conducted since May 1995 were voluntary dynamometer tests, said Ronald L. Freeland, chief of the Motor Vehicle Administration. The rest were tailpipe tests or, in 6,000 instances, mandatory dynameter tests on state-owned vehicles.

A June 1996 study conducted for the MVA suggests that the dynamometer test would become more accepted if more people took it. The study showed that 70 percent of those who volunteered for the test would do so again.

"Media coverage of the critics of the dynamometer test has exceeded the MVA's own success in informing the public," the study said.

Critics say they fear the new test will damage their cars.

Thirty-five vehicles were damaged during emissions testing in 1995 and 61 were damaged this year, said MVA spokeswoman Marilyn J. Corbett.

She did not know how many of those damages took place during dynamometer testing.

Officials said most damages were minor, such as scuffed tires and hubcaps, and repairs were paid for by the company that runs the stations, MARTA Technologies Inc. of Nashville, Tenn.

One vocal critic, Del. Martha S. Klima, predicted that the coupon and other incentives would not appease wary motorists. "I have over 120,000 signatures of people who are very opposed to this test," the Baltimore County Republican said.

"If they implement this, it's 'goodbye Democrats' because I don't think Marylanders will put up with it," she said.

Pub Date: 8/06/96

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