The Commercial Appeal

Auto tests roll to stop

Memphis car inspection stations closed

- By Tom Charlier

Newly annexed resident Angie Lewis picked the very last day of the Memphis Motor Vehicle Inspection Bureau’s existence to undergo her very f i rst auto i nspection.

“Oh, this is the last day?” she asked after her 2009 Chrysler PT Cruiser passed inspection.

A resident of the portion of South Cordova annexed by Memphis in 2012, Lewis, 55, was among just a trickle of motorists who stopped by the Downtown-area i nspection station on Washington on Friday. All four of the city’s inspection stations had light traffic, the bureau’s webcams showed, in contrast to the long lines of vehicles usually seen at the end of a month as residents rush to meet registrati­on deadlines.

The light turnout ref lected the fact that sta- tions were permanentl­y closing at 3 p. m. Friday, a consequenc­e of a City Council decision l ast year to halt funding for the inspection program at the end of the 2012-13 f iscal year. Come Monday, Memphis motorists will no longer need i nspections, i ncluding emissions testing, to register their vehicles. Shelby County residents living outside the city never have needed it.

In deciding to drop the program, council members said it was unfair that only Memphis residents were subject to inspection­s — at a cost to the city of $ 2.7 million annually — when the entire county is classified as in violation of federal air- quality standards for ozone pollution.

Even though he agreed with that sentiment, Paul McKinney, 54, another motorist undergoing i nspection Friday, said he was sorry to see the testing end. “I just wish they’d come up with a system that would make it fair for everyone,” he said.

With the shutdown of the stations, 28 bureau employees lost their jobs, city spokeswoma­n De- wanna Lofton said. Of that number, 11 are eligible for retirement and four others will be rehired in other positions with the city.

Four bureau employees will be retained for the short term to close the stations and mothball the equipment, Memphis chief administra­tive off icer George Little said.

Because the i nspection program was credited with eliminatin­g about 350 tons of pollution annually from local skies, the city and county could face federal sanctions resulting from the shutdown. If commensura­te pollution reductions aren’t found, the county could lose federal highway funds and be forced to exact major cuts i n emissions from existing i ndustries before any new factories are built. Additional­ly, Memphis could be forced to repay some $ 3.4 million in grant funds used to build the inspection station off Appling.

Lofton said the city remains in discussion­s aimed at developing a countywide solution to the emissions-testing issue. “There are no borders when it comes to clean air,” she said.

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