The cost of annual vehicle safety inspections could increase by nearly $5 under a state proposal that aims to input safety inspection data into computers to increase efficiency and documentation in the motor vehicle registration process.
The changes could come as soon as Nov. 1, following public meetings to be held across the state in about a month, said Caroline Sluyter, state Department of Transportation spokeswoman.
The electronic conversion would reduce the backlog caused by the current paper process, she said. Inspection stations currently hand over paper forms to county division of motor vehicle offices, which input the information into computers, Sluyter said. The use of computers at safety inspection stations would help speed the process and provide better documentation of vehicles with the inputting of vehicle photos into a database.
Consumers could see prices rise from $14.70 for a current vehicle inspection to $19.19 in the proposal - an increase of $4.49. The state would receive $1.70 of the fee increase; contractor, Parsons Environment & Infrastructure Group, would get $1.69, and the inspection stations would receive $1.10 of the fee hike.
The cost increase and the computerization of the process drew a mixed reaction from officials at two Maui vehicle safety inspection stations, who met with the state's contractor Monday to learn about the new electronic system.
Paul Hanada, who has two Shell stations in Kahului, and Marine Patao of Patao Gas & Go on Lower Main Street said the inspection fee increase could have been higher - especially the inspection station share.
"Technically, you don't really make money doing it," Hanada said.
When factoring in employee wages and other costs of doing business like rent and insurance, there is not much left. And while the cost of business has increased, Hanada said inspection prices have not changed for a while. Sluyter confirmed that the last rate hike was in the 1980s.
Currently, the stations make around $13.15 per car for a 20- to 25-minute inspection, Hanada said.
Even with the proposed rate hike to $19.19, customers would be getting a "good deal," he said, adding that a rate hike of as much as $10 would still make the inspections a good deal.
Hanada complained that the inspection stations should have had a say in the pricing structure.
Patao agreed with Hanada in that conducting safety inspections may not be feasible for all gas stations or other businesses that perform the inspections under the proposed pricing structure. She said that small stations that do not do many safety inspections may discontinue the service.
For her, the service is feasible due to the "high volume" of safety checks. She declined to share inspection numbers.
Overall, she said the proposed hike was "a fair price."
Although Hanada questioned the proposed price, he remained sympathetic to those who probably could not afford the increase and could not obtain a safety inspection. He said there are plenty of "Maui cruisers" on the island that are badly in need of repair but owners just cannot afford to pay.
In fact, safety problems, involving brakes, steering and tires, are discovered through the inspection process, he said.
Hanada added that many are unaware of the proposed new process that also involves the photographing of their vehicles.
Overall, Hanada and Patao said the computerized system would make things more efficient, especially with the ditching of paper.
"I don't have any problem; I kind of like it. I rather have that than fill out a form," Hanada said.
Each form costs stations 5 cents, but if someone makes a mistake on the form it has to be thrown away and a new one written up, Hanada said.
After having her concerns about using computers allayed by the informational meeting, Patao said that the computerized system will probably speed up safety checks and get the information to the DMVL sooner.
The first computer iPad kit with software and hardware is free. Inspection stations will have to pay for additional kits.
Patao said that she will easily invest at least $3,600 for more equipment to handle their volume of inspections. She said she likely will be able to recoup that money in "a few months."
Hanada said he'll probably buy a second computer kit as a backup. That could cost nearly $1,000.
Sluyter said the extra money the state will take in will help pay for inspectors of the safety inspection stations. She added that in the past the state had lost money through the safety inspection process.
Parsons was chosen as the contractor for the service through a bidding process, Sluyter added.
* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.