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How many vehicle pollution SMS reports go up in smoke?

Just one out of every 40 texts sent in results in an emissions test

The transport watchdog received over 16,000 text messages reporting cars emitting excessive smoke in 2016 but only 416 vehicles were called for testing and 57 of them failed.

Under the emission alert scheme, the public can report vehicles emitting excessive exhaust fumes by sending an SMS to 50611899.

The information emerges from the Transport Malta 2016 annual report, which shows that 316 vehicles had passed the test.

The discrepancy between vehicles summoned for testing and those actually tested is due to the fact that some owners did not respond to the regulator’s call.

In such cases, the licence is not renewed until the owners regularise their position.

When this newspaper examined figures tabled in Parliament, it emerged that the transport watchdog received an average 40 SMSs for every car called for inspection.

This rate stems from the overall number of reports received by Transport Malta in 2016, which was of 16,340.

READ: In 2015, around 13,000 text messages reported fume-belching vehicles

The ratio grows when comparing the text messages sent to the cars found not to be compliant. In this case, it took 272 SMSs for every vehicle that failed the test.

Details on the number of SMS sent were given in reply to a parliamentary question which Opposition MP Ryan Callus asked then Transport Minister Joe Mizzi a year ago.

At the time, the discrepancy between the text messages received and the number of cars eligible for inspection had been attributed to the procedure in place.

Under the scheme, action is only taken if a minimum of three SMSs are sent from different mobile numbers about the same vehicle within a three-month period. Some of the messages would be deemed invalid if missing or giving incomplete details such as the registration plate and the date and the time the car in question was spotted.

Failure to meet the minimum emission requirements, triggers an automatic fine and the vehicle keeps being inspected until found in compliance with the law.

Launched in 2005, the system became quite popular with about 50,000 reports being filed annually.

However it was dealt a severe blow in 2008 when the Auditor General revealed that about 70,000 complaints had not been followed up.

Since then, the number of complaints declined, even though there has been a marginal rise over the last few years. Still, the rather low rate of inspections when compared to the number of reports filed cannot be helping the cause.

In figures: 

  • 16,340 reports sent in by SMS 
  • 416 vehicles called in for testing 
  • 316 pass emissions test
  • 57 fail emissions test 
  • 43 ignore request for testing
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