Cost hikes, business ultimatums, as DOT streamlines safety checks

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Drivers, get ready to pay more for your vehicle’s safety check. The state wants to raise the yearly inspection fee by as much as 36 percent. It’s even higher for those who ride a motorcycle.

The 700 or so stations that do safety checks have been given an ultimatum: Switch to a new high-tech program that drivers will be paying for, or get out of the safety check business.

Safety checks haven’t changed much, including the price, in decades. Scope out the car, check off the boxes, fill in all that paperwork — all for about $15.

“If you do inspections correctly, you do not make money on them,” said John Kelly, Vice President at Lex Brodie’s, which does hundreds of safety checks a month at its locations. “Really a safety check should take you an hour-and-a-half.”

A new mandatory state program hopes to help make that more efficient and cut out a massive data-entry backlog, but it isn’t free. Drivers will be paying for it.

Car and truck drivers would pay about 36 percent more, bringing the tab to around $20 with tax now added.

Motorcycle riders and folks with trailers would pay nearly 60 percent more, from $8.75 to nearly $14.

And don’t lose it; that will cost you 34 percent more to replace.

“I can’t believe this,” said driver Jan Wonso, hearing about the upcoming hike from KHON2. “This is absolutely ridiculous.”

“Registration raises, I pay more now that when I first owned the car, then there’s gas,” driver Jessica Manalo said, lamenting another cost add-on.

So where is the fee hike going?

The state gets $1.70 from the added cost. They say that will pay for their own inspectors who keep tabs on the stations.

The safety check businesses earn about $1.10 more.

State contractor Parsons will get $1.69 for every car.

“The state, I figured this was in the works for over a year, and then all of a sudden boom here it is,” Kelly said, “Surprise!”

The surprise? By Nov. 1 all safety check stations would have to be using a Parsons-supplied iPad that connects wirelessly to a central database, a special printer, new stickers and paper, and a router. One set is free to the station from Parsons, but any extras for the busy shops will cost $1,000 apiece payable to the contractor.

“As it was presented to us, you’re either in, or you’re out,” Kelly said. “You have areas of this island — and I’m sure outer islands — that it may not be easy. Even though it’s 2013, you might not have the ability to get high-speed internet on such short notice.”

KHON2 asked the Department of Transportation: Is it an unreasonable expectation to ask this kind of industry to go high-tech, all wireless in this case?

“We understand there are some concerns about that,” DOT spokesperson Caroline Sluyter said. “Most of the people already have internet connection. Of course there will be some that don’t, especially the smaller more rural areas.”

Station operators just recently got a sneak peek at the program at briefings the state and contractor put on.

“We immediately embraced it because we immediately saw it as a way to save time. We have a full parking lot every day and there’s a lot of customers here who want to speed up the process,” Kelly said.

“It’s going to be terrific in the long run,” said Dane Saito from the Manoa Chevron. “It’s better than the system that we have now.”

Asked if everybody felt that way at the inspector meeting, Saito added, “I think everyone was more or less not too sure.”

“I have friends who work in other shops who are safety inspection stations and I know one of them he’s bowing out, he’s done,” Kelly said.

The DOT says it expects most stations will be able to stick with the program.

“All of the stations that now are doing the inspections are offered to switch over to the new system,” Sluyter said. “If they don’t want to continue with the safety inspections, that’s fine, too. Maybe it’s not worth it to some people to continue doing the inspections so that is their choice.”

The DOT says the change will be worth it for drivers.

“Now when you could get your safety check it isn’t input immediately into the system, which could delay your registration,” Sluyter said. “So I’ve heard it could be one month to two months. I’ve heard up to six months. Now with the new system it will be almost instant.”

KHON2 asked DOT: Why not just process the paper more quickly and let drivers save?

“Nobody likes a fee increase, we understand that, but we hope the public understands the fee hasn’t been increased since the 1980s,” Sluyter said. “The portion of the revenue we get goes to pay for our inspectors, so we have inspectors who go out and actually inspect the stations themselves to make sure they’re doing the job correctly. That, in the last few years, has been a money loser for us.”

Police cite about 23,000 drivers a year for safety check violations. Asked if they think moving from paper to electronic will make a difference there, Honolulu Police Department Maj. Kurt Kendro said, “I don’t know if it will have an impact on it, it’s too early to tell. But it will certainly clear up the administrative paperwork that goes along with that.”

The iPads will collect and store photos of every car — front, back, vin and deficiencies — so scofflaws, beware.

“If they go down the street, another station will pull up that vehicle, and the pictures of what you failed it on will be on there,” Kelly said, “So no more shopping around for somebody to pass your vehicle.”

All of this is in a draft of administrative rule changes that have not yet had a public hearing. The DOT says Nov. 1 is still a target start date. KHON2 will keep you posted when that hearing is set.

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