FRAMINGHAM, Mass. (AP) - October did not start out as a good month to get your car inspected in Massachusetts.
Despite promises of a smooth transition, many local mechanics have been unable to perform auto inspections since the state’s system switchover Oct. 1.
“I’m losing money every day,” Framingham Tire and Auto Repair owner Erik Dobay said. “I’m losing probably $1,000 every day.”
Last fall, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation awarded a five-year contract to Applus Technologies to upgrade and run inspection systems statewide. Auto shops were required to buy about $6,000 to $7,000 in equipment, and send employees to a free training program.
In a September report, the state listed 1,762 licensed inspection stations. As of Friday, Oct. 6, the state website updating residents on the status of the inspection services listed a little more than 1,300 with functioning systems, leaving a 400-station gap.
Applus had one year to implement the system, which was supposed to be fully functioning by Oct. 1. The contract with the prior system terminated Sept. 30.
“We’ve been down for a week,” Hopkinton’s Lumber Street Auto service writer Lauren Dias said Friday, Oct. 6. “We’ve been losing revenue. We’ve had to turn people away, which means potentially losing customers.”
Documents on the Massachusetts Department of Transportation website point out the new system may help tackle inspection fraud and is slightly cheaper per car after 4.4 million inspections than the previous company.
Between the inspections themselves - both noncommercial vehicles at $35 per sticker, and commercial trucks at $135 per sticker - and the associated repair work many people need before passing inspection, local auto shop owners estimate they’ve lost thousands of dollars this week. Mechanics get the majority of the inspection sticker price, with about $10 going to the state, and a little over a dollar going to Applus.
Auto shop owners say the system won’t start up, or they get messages saying they don’t have the appropriate authorization or equipment.
“It keeps saying I don’t have any stickers,” Dobay said. “I have five stacks.”
To make matters worse, mechanics said they can’t get in touch with Applus.
“The new company, Applus, there’s nothing on the line when you call it,” Framingham’s Exceptional Auto Body mechanical supervisor John Churn said. “No one ever called back, it’s been horrible.”
A few came in Oct. 1, a Sunday, to allow a technician to start up the new equipment, but said no one showed and calls to Applus went to voicemail. Those still without a functioning inspection system Friday, Oct. 6, said they’ve been calling the company all week, multiple times a day, to no avail.
“We’ve sat on hold for hours at a time, just listening to the music,” Dias said Friday, Oct. 6.
Some owners have driven to company offices or training sites, to find buildings locked up tight. One mechanic, Bill Nasios of Nickerson Road Auto Repair and Service in Ashland, was able to get someone on the phone, but hasn’t yet received his inspection stickers or software password.
Even when the equipment is running, mechanics have to call Applus to troubleshoot ongoing technical issues, said Don Astin, whose Hopedale garage, Astin’s Auto Service, was able to start inspections Thursday, Oct. 5. Calls again go to voicemail, he said.
“If I have a customer’s car in my bay, and I’m calling for technical help, and it goes to voicemail, it really isn’t helpful,” Astin said.
Garage owners said they were told moving to Applus would be a smooth transition, a sentiment reflected in paperwork prior to the launch date.
“Applus has never missed an implementation date,” a September MassDOT update, published before the switchover, reads. “Their experience and agility to adapt to any situation has allowed them a perfect history hitting program start-up dates.”
It doesn’t help that the implementation took place at the beginning of the month, which is when auto shops get most of their inspection sticker business.
“I’ve turned away easily between 60 and 70 people between telephones and walk-ins,” Astin said, just in the first three days of the week. “The beginning of the month is always very busy in my world for stickers.”
Garage owners who have been able to get inspection services up this week credit Registry of Motor Vehicle employees, not Applus.
Features of new inspection services
Documents on the MassDOT website reveal the following about the Applus Technologies switchover.
- Auto shops had to install five video cameras in each inspection bay, to monitor inspections. A letter from one mechanic from MassDOT said three of these cameras won’t begin recording until January.
- Inspectors have to take four photos of each car or truck, of the front and rear license plates, the VIN plate, and the odometer.
- The Applus Technologies contract was for a little over $29 million
- The prior system vendor was with Parsons Technologies
- After 4.4 million inspections Applus’ per vehicle fee drops from $1.343 to 43 cents, which is about 55 cents less than Parsons’
Information from: MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, Mass.), https://www.metrowestdailynews.com
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