My Puddy-O-Meter told me that this would happen. Anyone could have seen this coming a mile away. And the new private program has only been in operation for 2 weeks.
Because of our poor air quality, for a couple of decades we've been required to have vehicle emission testing every 2 years before we can renew our license plates. For many years these tests were done by a contracted private service, EnviroTest for the cost to the state of about $4.95 per test. If you failed, you had to have your car repaired at a facility of your choice and return to the test site for a retest.
Under the old system, Envirotest received $3.2 million in 2011 - about $4.95 for each of the 645,611 tests conducted. Systech won a new five-year contract with a bid of nearly $2.6 million for 2012 - an expected $4.02 per test, assuming the same number of tests. The test facilities get half of that - $2 per test.Yes, and because the contractor pockets the majority of what the state pays and gives $2 to the actual provider of the emission test, there's not only the opportunity, but a financial incentive to cheat the vehicle owner.
The advantage for the participating facilities is that they can try to sell additional services to those who come in for tests, or attract customers back for other work or to buy a new car. The advantage for customers is the convenience of decentralized locations, which means a shorter drive and, presumably, shorter wait times.
They sold this privatization scheme as a benefit to drivers who could now find a facility closer to them and avoid the long lines at the previous testing facilities. It may have sounded like a good idea, but anyone who has ever heard about the repair scams that even nationally advertised repair facilities pull on their customers know that this change in testing locations had a high potential for fraud.
To counter those concerns, our state government here in FitzWalkerStan said that the facilities would be pre-screened for inclusion in the program. Despite that:
Five of the 198 approved facilities have an F rating with the Better Business Bureau, mainly because the businesses did not respond when the bureau approached them on behalf of unsatisfied customers. Another facility has a D rating.What we have now is the fox guarding the chicken coop. Every other annual license plate renewal in Wisconsin must be accompanied by a passing vehicle emissions test. What is happening now is that instead of having those tests done at a facility that ONLY does the testing, the tests are now done at repair facilities which have the profit motive and opportunity to oversell repairs - particularly to those who waited until virtually the last minute for testing on their vehicles.
There are so many stories of scam repairs - shops that turn a $100 repair into $1000 or more because most of us don't have a clue about the innerds of our vehicles. Walkers privatization scheme simply funnels suckers directly to the profit-making service centers.
Just 2 weeks into the change, the average failure rate for emission testing has increased from the previous 6-7% to 9% with 8 facilities reporting 20% or higher failure rates.
The Journal Sentinel analysis shows so far this year, 70% - 139 out of 198 facilities - have fail rates that are above last year's statewide average. All the technicians the Journal Sentinel spoke to said they couldn't alter or tamper with the results of the tests.The case featured in the article involved an 82 year old woman who took her 2007 Malibu for emissions testing to a Better Business Bureau A rated facility. There she was told her car failed emissions testing and that she needed $2500 in repairs on her vehicle - money she couldn't afford. Her son, horrified that his mother was about to take out a loan for that amount so she could renew her license and continue to drive, took the vehicle elsewhere and discovered that only $417 in repairs were needed.
About 20 drivers have already filed complaints with the state, but Scott Selbach, the state supervisor of the vehicle emissions program says ..... wait for it .....
"Ultimately, the market is going to drive the success or failure of these businesses," Selbach said.Riiiiight! Let Wisconsinites who are required to have their vehicles tested to renew their licenses keep getting cheated by these private repair facilities until the "free market" does its magic. After all, the "free market" has done such a good job of getting rid of auto repair scammers already.
Sadly, most Wisconsinites aren't going to see (or be told) about the Walker connection in all of this. Only 2 weeks into this privatization scheme and already it's gone bad.
My own car will be due for testing in May of 2013. I'll need to remember that I can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (for all the good that ever does), to the profit-making Systec which holds the state vehicle emissions testing contract (good luck with that), to the scamming repair facility itself (like they'll do anything), or to a Walker appointee controlled state agency (miracle definitely needed to keep that complaint out the garbage can).
Until then, Wisconsin drivers will be at the mercy of the for-profit free market. What a joke.