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Health Department

Dr. Paul's Tennessean Guest Column - May 15, 2011

Redesign of vehicle testing program will benefit drivers

In Nashville, the average household travels 21,200 vehicle miles per year, and in total we drive more than 20 million miles each day, so it is no surprise that vehicle exhaust is our #1 source of smog and ozone pollution.

Vehicle emissions testing is a major tool for keeping our air clean and reducing ozone, which keeps people out of the hospital and saves lives by keeping thousands of tons of pollutants out of our air each year. In addition to the health benefits, the program is required: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviews and approves Nashville's program in context of community plan to reduce air pollution.

In Davidson County, we now have a program that works, implemented through a contract with SysTech International. The $9 test fee is among the lowest in the nation. Last year more than 515,000 vehicles were tested with very few complaints. For customers who test in the middle of the month, waiting times are minimal. The Health Department has worked with SysTech to add conveniences including more test positions at the stations and mobile testing vans used in Bellevue, Joelton, Cane Ridge Park and Rhodes Park.

Metro Government has a 5-year contract with SysTech with an optional extension. The Board of Health recently recommended renewing the contract for 3 years based on the company's performance and the low cost.

If this contract extension is approved by the Metro Council, hours will be expanded without increasing the fee: Saturday hours at the Antioch station would increase. The Dickerson Road station would be open on Saturdays. The mobile testing vans at Rhodes Park, Cane Ridge, Joelton and Bellevue would operate longer hours.

The Health Department, the Board of Health, and the Metro Council are very interested in improvements that can increase customer convenience at a reasonable cost while keeping our air clean. Several events point to the need for a careful redesign of the program over the next few years.

First, the EPA is tightening the ozone standards. Those tougher standards will likely require changes in our testing program. Second, new technologies are being evaluated that can add convenience to the program. One of those technologies, "remote sensing," is being evaluated in Williamson County, but EPA considers it a step backward.

The proposed 3-year renewal will allow the Health Department, the Board of Health, the County Clerk, the next Metro Council, and the wider community to carefully consider a variety of changes and develop a plan for a redesigned program that optimizes air quality, convenience, and cost. Our intent is to have a community-wide conversation about what Nashville wants the next generation of its testing program to look like, so that changes can be incorporated into a re-designed program that begins with the expiration of the pending contract extension.

In the meantime, the Metro Public Health Department strongly supports renewing the current contract. This will keep the $9 fee intact for at least three more years, and provide time to review the new EPA standards and assess what must be done to meet them. And it will provide opportunity to carefully redesign the program to improve convenience while protecting health and keeping costs reasonable.

Dr. Bill Paul
Director of Health
Metro Public Health Department of Nashville/Davidson County