Metro

Stations say car-inspection system is costing them money, seek compensation

A trade group representing Massachusetts service stations wants the state to compensate stations that have lost money on vehicle inspections since this week’s bungled rollout of new inspection machines.

Meanwhile, the Registry of Motor Vehicles said it has reduced the number of troublesome machines and had almost 90 percent of approved inspection sites up and functioning properly by late Thursday.

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The new system went live Sunday, and immediately many stations reported problems with machines and software. Some drivers struggled to find a station that could complete their inspections, while station owners said they could not get through to a call center for help troubleshooting the issues.

State officials have said the service stations may not have been fully trained on the new machines. But Stephen Regan, executive director of the Automotive Service Association of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, rejected any implication that his members were at fault, saying the problems were a result of “a series of missteps, poor planning, and outright incompetence.”

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“Shop owners I have spoken to are incensed, not only at the significant loss of revenue and being unable to serve their loyal customers, but at having the RMV lay the blame at their doorstep,” Regan wrote to Governor Charlie Baker.

In an interview, Regan said the businesses, which had to pay upward of $5,000 for the new equipment, have lost thousands of dollars in revenue because they were unable to complete inspections. The stations receive $23.50 of the $35 inspection fee that motorists pay.

“I think the right thing to do would be for the state to compensate them for their loss, because it was their fault,” Regan said.

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The five-year, $29 million state contract was awarded to Applus Technologies in 2016. Illinois-based Applus has a troubled history in Massachusetts; a government whistle-blower revealed in 2003 that its emissions tests were often inaccurate. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

The RMV said that by late Thursday, the new machines were working properly at about 1,191 of the 1,347 inspection stations, up from just 530 on Monday, the first business day under the new system.

The Department of Transportation declined to make Erin Deveney, the RMV’s chief, available for an interview. In a statement, spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard said the RMV and Applus are working “to ensure they have the tools, supplies and training they need and fully understand how to use the new software and technology.”

On WBZ-TV Wednesday, Baker suggested that if the state bore any blame, it was for not properly training inspectors. Stations were required to send a single technician to a training event, where officials offered a slideshow but did not demonstrate the actual technology.

“We need to do a better job of training people so they can use it and provide service to their customers,” Baker said.

Yet some station owners said training was not the problem.

Zack Fahey, the owner of Burlington Motors, said he was not able to conduct inspections because his machine couldn’t print the inspection stickers Applus provided.

“This has nothing to do with training. This is them,” he said of Applus. “My machine’s up and running, but I can’t do stickers.” Others said they had not even received stickers or that software bugs would not allow them to inspect certain cars. Some reported they could not reach the contractor’s call center. “Different issues are coming up at different locations,” said Matt LeLacheur, co-executive director of another industry trade group.

Vicky Mantis, a manager at ALFA Auto Fuel in Roslindale, was having a problem printing stickers until a technician visited Wednesday night. The company was up and running by Thursday morning.

Station owners also questioned why the new system debuted at the start of the month, when they usually get a surge of inspection requests.

“They should have done it mid-month when it’s not so busy,” Fahey said. He said some customers were nervous they’d be ticketed for not having an up-to-date inspection sticker because of the new system.

The Boston Police Department said its officers are “encouraged to use their discretion” when issuing tickets because of the problems.

Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com.
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