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Public Post is a community reporting initiative using digital tools to report on cities and towns across Vermont.Public Post is the only resource that lets you browse and search documents across dozens of Vermont municipal websites in one place.Follow reporter Amy Kolb Noyes and #PublicPost on Twitter and read news from the Post below.

Auto Shops Will Pay The Price For Vermont's New Digital Inspection System

Amy Kolb Noyes
Mechanic Bill Smith works on a car engine in the shop he and Andy Wellman are converting into a motorcycle sales, service and storage business. Smith and Wellman are trying to decide if it will be worth the investment to offer motorcycle inspections.

Vermont and Maine are the only states that still have paper-based vehicle inspection systems. That will change this spring, when Vermont brings its Automated Vehicle Inspection Program online — and some small repair shops fear they’ll be pushed out of the inspection business as a result.The program is called AVIP for short. It’s currently being beta-tested at a few inspection stations around the state, and is expected to be fully implemented in March.

But first, inspection stations need to decide if they’re going to buy in to the program. To remain an official inspection station, shops will have to buy about $1,625 in computer equipment. And there are ongoing costs as well.

Andy Wellman is co-owner of Moto Venture, a new motorcycle shop just outside Montpelier. He has a lot of unanswered questions about the new system.

"If we charge $25 for inspection stickers, and we only do 15 to 25 a year, the first year we basically pay the state to do inspections and possibly we’ll break even by second year," he says. "And this doesn’t account for – are there software upgrades? I don’t know. I haven’t been able to talk to anybody. What is entailed with that? And so, are we paying the state for the privilege to inspect motorcycles?"

Wellman needs to decide if he’s going to offer inspections at his shop. But so far he hasn’t been able to get answers on how much he’ll need to invest. He’s been told that if he’s just doing motorcycle inspections, he may not have to buy the complete equipment package for car inspections.

Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
Andy Wellman maneuvers a walk-behind forklift he and Smith have customized to move motorcycles up to a second-story winter storage space.

But if he does buy in, he’ll need to maintain a dedicated WiFi signal, and he’ll have to pay the equipment manufacturer a fee for every sticker he issues – on top of the $6 sticker fee he pays the state.

Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Robert Ide says it’s a decision each shop owner will have to make for themselves.

"State inspections are a business partnership between the state and inspection stations," says Ide. "No one is required to be an inspection station, but we greatly appreciate the business partnership we have. Certainly if a station has low volume, their per-cost unit is going to be higher than a big dealership."

But Wellman’s business partner Bill Smith says it’s not much of a choice if you want to be a full-service shop.

"The inspection and service part of things go hand-in-hand," says Smith. "So, yeah, we need to figure that out. And it’s expensive and it’s discouraging that the state isn’t really stepping up and helping people out … They’re just sort of putting it on the inspection stations."

Commissioner Ide says stations have the option to finance the cost of the rugged tablet and other mandatory equipment. On top of that, a $2.21 per-sticker fee will compensate the company that developed the AVIP system.

Credit Vermont DMV
Vermont DMV
This heavy-duty tablet is one of the pieces of equipment inspections stations need to purchase in order to keep issuing Vermont inspection stickers.

"We’ve advanced no money for this contractor," says Ide. "Everything has been done on the contractor’s nickel. And so the $2.20 fee helps reimburse them for their investment."

The AVIP system will track each vehicle’s inspection history. That allows inspection stations and the state to see if drivers are shopping around for an inspection.

Ide explains, "If you bring your car to my inspection station and I fail you and you go down the road and get a sticker this afternoon, there’s going to be a tracking system. So we’ll be able to say, 'Was that repair made? Or is somebody operating at a lesser degree than we expect?'"

Wellman says safety is a priority, but he doesn't think the program implementation has been well thought out. And Gov. Phil Scott agrees.

"The bottom line is, we're taking a look at that," Scott said Friday on Vermont Edition. "I would like a little more flexibility, latitude."

Scott, who says he may be the only governor personally licensed to do vehicle inspections, says he heard about this issue on the campaign trail.

Adding to the confusion around implementing the new system is some misinformation about inspection changes. Ide says rumors that safety inspections are getting tougher aren't true.

"The regulations or the standards for a safety inspection have not changed," he says.

"If you ask me today, 'What is the single reason that the most vehicles in Vermont fail a safety inspection?' We have no records to answer that question." - Vermont DMV Commissioner Robert Ide

In addition, Ide says the new system will allow the state to track inspection data for the first time.

"If you ask me today, 'What is the single reason that the most vehicles in Vermont fail a safety inspection?' We have no records to answer that question," he says. "And this, over time, will help us to assimilate the proper ratio of what is causing vehicle failure."

Ide says the automated system should speed up inspection appointments, and he hopes inspection stations can realize a savings there. And he adds, "A station, also, can charge whatever it wants. There’s no prescribed fee for doing an inspection. That’s strictly their decision."

Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
Andy Wellman, left, and Bill Smith pose with their new business sign. The shop is opening on Route 12 in Berlin, just over the Montepelier line.

But over at Moto Venture, Andy Wellman says there’s only so much the market will bear.

"Nobody’s really going to pay more than $25 for a motorcycle inspection," he says. "So that’s how your pricing is situated."

Wellman says, even if motorcycle shops aren’t obligated to buy all the equipment needed for car inspections, it will still take him more than a year to turn a profit on inspection services.

Amy is an award winning journalist who has worked in print and radio in Vermont since 1991. Her first job in professional radio was at WVMX in Stowe, where she worked as News Director and co-host of The Morning Show. She was a VPR contributor from 2006 to 2020.
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