TORONTO — The Ontario government is scrapping the Drive Clean vehicle emissions testing program and replacing it with a new system that will focus on heavy duty vehicles such as transport trucks, a move thousands of auto dealerships in the province have wanted for years.
The Progressive Conservative government says the Drive Clean program, which tests emissions every two years on cars and light-duty trucks over seven years old, is outdated and no longer effective.
The Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) has long said the program makes owning a vehicle in Ontario too costly.
“Today’s announcement by Premier Doug Ford to eliminate the Drive Clean program is good news for the auto sector, taxpayers and drivers. It cuts red tape, and saves time and money,” TADA spokesman Frank Notte said in a statement. “No longer will auto dealers waste money on equipment and overhead costs, freeing up money to invest in their business.”
TADA represents more than 1,000 new-vehicle dealerships in Ontario.
The association viewed the original fee, which generated $5 million for the government, as just another tax on car buyers, who already pay for vehicle permits ($20), plates ($45) and yearly plate stickers ($60 in northern Ontario, $120 in southern Ontario).
In April 2017, the Ontario’s then-Liberal majority government made good on its promise to eliminate the $30 Drive Clean emissions test fee for light-duty vehicles. It also followed through on its pledge to no longer require pre-owned light-duty vehicles less than seven years old to undergo the test.
Ontario’s new car dealers have been calling for the cancellation of Drive Clean since 2012. That’s when Ontario’s auditor general reported that better emission control standards on vehicles and federal requirements for cleaner fuel – not Drive Clean reduced vehicle emissions by 75 per cent. The auditor general also discovered Drive Clean was running a surplus, although it was always meant to be a revenue neutral program.
TADA has never said how much the program and its required equipment and paperwork has cost dealers, some of whom administer the test.
A revamped Drive Clean program, which went into effect April 1, 2017 under the previous Liberal government, determined if a vehicle met Ontario emissions standards. If it didn’t, a vehicle owner had to make necessary repairs before the vehicle was allowed on the road. All light-duty vehicles licensed in Ontario still required their first biennial Drive Clean test for licence-plate renewal at seven years old. However, vehicle owners no longer had to pay the fee. Instead, funds to support the program came from the government’s general revenue — until today, when the now-majority Conservatives killed the program.
Premier Doug Ford’s government says the program worked well when it was introduced in 1999 but grew less useful as the automotive industry adopted more stringent emissions standards. As a result, the government says, only five per cent of vehicles failed the test in 2017.
The Tories say a new program will be introduced to target emissions from heavy duty vehicles, which they say have weaker emissions standards and get replaced less frequently.
They say the proposed changes will be subject to a 30-day public consultation.
The Canadian Press and Greg Layson of Automotive News Canada contributed to this report.