Ever get caught driving behind an old clunker that was spewing enough exhaust it made you cough even with all your windows rolled up? Ever wonder why something couldn't be done about such an obvious detriment to the environment? Well, there is something can be done, and it's been very successful so far.
The North Central Texas Council of Governments, which administers the old vehicle voucher program on behalf of the state, has gotten 12,000 applications from people seeking money to help replace their old cars and trucks.
If all 12,000 applications were to be approved, they would exceed the first $30 million that the state has allocated for the program, officials said. No date has been set, but the council will probably need to quit taking applications in a few weeks.
A second phase of the program should begin in September.
"It might be a few weeks before we have to cut it off; it might be a month," said Lara Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the council of governments. "But it's winding down."
Last week, the council of governments sent an e-mail to area dealers advising them that the program would no longer accept applications after Friday. But officials later determined that 1,300 vouchers that had been approved had expired, and those funds were still available. Consumers have to spend their vouchers within 30 days.
The program, which began accepting applications in December, is aimed at lower-income residents of the Dallas, Houston and Austin areas who drive vehicles that are at least 10 years old. People who meet income limits - $30,630 for an individual and $72,390 for a family of five - may be eligible for $3,000 vouchers that they can use on new or late-model vehicles. They must buy cars and trucks that cost $25,000 or less.
Dallas, Houston and Austin do not meet federal clean-air standards. Since older vehicles emit up to 30 times as much pollution as newer ones, the areas hope to improve air quality - and get credits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - by getting old vehicles off the road.
About 5,000 vouchers have been granted so far from the 12,000 applications received in the Dallas area. Recipients can take the vouchers - which increase to $3,500 if they're buying a hybrid vehicle - to participating car dealers for a new vehicle or a used one up to three model years old. Their old cars and trucks are supposed to be taken to salvage yards.
There's a lot of interest in the program, officials said.
"Love it, love it, love it," said state Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, who sponsored the bill that created the program. "This is an excellent, excellent start to making a positive difference."
The state has $100 million available for the old car voucher program - the largest amount in the nation, Mr. Averitt said. In December, it allocated half of that money to programs in Dallas, Houston and Austin, and it will give those areas the remaining funds in September, he said.
"The EPA continues to tell us we have the most aggressive and best-funded program in the country," he said. "There's not even a close second - and that includes California."