Why The Inspection Sticker Line On Nantucket Is So Long

David Creed •

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If you’ve taken your car to Don Allen for an annual inspection this year, or have simply driven down Polpis Road in the early morning hours Monday through Friday, you’ve likely experienced the long line of vehicles waiting in the auto center’s inspection line. It's the only show in town, and it's under stress.

Bill Tornovish and Erik Evens, the co-owners of Don Allen, told the Current that several problems emerged in early 2023 that have led to longer than usual lines. But they believe that moving forward, some of those obstacles will be in the rearview mirror, and they continue to ask for patience as they work to accommodate the inspection needs of vehicles on the island during its busiest time of year.

“It’s a headache and it’s not the perfect world – that’s for sure,” Tornovish said. “We feel for the people who are upset, but it takes a lot out of our day to put all the energy into directing traffic and trying to run other parts of the business as well.”

“We pump out 70-75 inspections per day,” Evens said. “These guys (his workers), they work so hard. I’m proud of our staff here. They don’t miss work, they show up on time, they are doing their job and more to keep us going, to keep us open.”

Don Allen entered the winter with two full-time inspectors, however beginning in February one of those workers was unavailable for a three-month stretch for personal reasons – leaving just one inspector until the return of this second employee in the middle of May.

“Now he is back but of course at this point, the backlog has taken its toll,” Tornovish said. “And then there’s the fact that this is the time of year when the island gets really populated and everybody wants to get their cars inspected now.”

Evens and Tornovish said they have worked very hard to find additional inspectors to hire, but the candidates they were getting were not qualified for the job. Evens added that given the liability issues at play, Don Allen needs to be careful about who they hire and don’t hire.

Don Allen recently hired a third inspector who just completed their inspection course this past week. This person will serve as an alternate if/when needed.

But the shortage of inspectors is just the beginning when it comes to the obstacles Don Allen has been attempting to navigate its way through with regards to the inspection station.

“Unfortunately, the state also went to a program where whatever your sticker says on it is what it is going to say if you get it inspected,” Tornovish said. “So if for example if you have a June sticker on it now and you try to wait and do it in January next year, it will still have a June expiration date. That was an advantage for us was to be able to tell people to have their caretakers get it done in the fall after they leave in October, November."

Evens added that if vehicles with, for example, an August inspection sticker come for an inspection in a shoulder month such as March or April, they would get a sticker for that month however - which is why Don Allen encourages people to come before the summer begins rather than after.

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Once upon a time, Don Allen had also allowed two lines of cars inside of their queue. It provided more space for vehicles which made lines going out onto the road a rare sight. 

However, Tornovish and Evens said they needed to eliminate one of the lines last summer after fights and arguments began to regularly break out between the operators of the vehicles about who was ahead of the other in line.

“That doesn’t bode well for us trying to sell cars down there when you have people fist-fighting in your parking lot,” Tornovish said.

In the aftermath of these conflicts, the loss of staff, and longer than usual inspection lines, Evens and sales associate Kip Hughes spend their mornings standing outside of the station by the road monitoring the cars coming and going, answering questions, and managing the temperature of people’s emotions as they wait for their turn to be inspected so situations don’t become violent or spiral out of control.

Coincidentally one of these conflicts nearly erupted in the early morning hours on Tuesday, June 27, while the Current was interviewing Evens.

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Don Allen co-owner Erik Evens outside of the inspection station Tuesday morning.

Evens had made a call to the police department to send an officer to enforce the no parking rule along the side of the road, but before they arrived there were 10 to 12 cars waiting. As the cars moved up in the lot, a space became open in the queue. A woman who had been waiting patiently for her turn to move from the road to the lot then proceeded to drive up in the line – but was cut off by someone who casually drove in front of her and stole the open space.

The woman was visibly upset and looked ready to jump out of her car to confront the man. The situation appeared to be heading for an ugly result but was swiftly resolved without confrontation by Evens, who told the man who cut the woman off to come back at a later time.

Cones and markers have also been placed along the sides of the road to deter people from waiting on the shoulder and causing traffic congestion that endangers the public. They are also in place to stop cars from blocking entrances to nearby businesses.

One area remains unblocked because of a neighbor’s driveway, but vehicles continue to flood that area of the road when the line is busy. Evens said they have now reached the point where if cars continue to do this, they will be calling the police to provide enforcement and tell people to go on their way and come back later.

“It is like a no-win situation and all we can do is try to keep people off the neighbors' properties, which is why we have the sawhorses and cones out there,” Tornovish said.

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Nantucket Police Department Lieutenant Angus MacVicar told the Current that his department is “very aware” of the traffic issues being caused by the inspection line and reiterated that people should not, under any circumstance, be parking along the side of Polpis Road.

“We respond to Polpis Road in front of where the entrance to the inspection station is sometimes several times per day to move vehicles along that are blocking the free lanes of travel on Polpis,” MacVicar said. “That is extremely dangerous to park there. You can’t block a travel lane or a part of a travel lane. That is a clear message I want to get out.”

Tornovish and Evens shared a similar sentiment and said if the queue is full, drive away and come back after the morning rush has ended, which is normally around 10 a.m.

“If you’re at the end of the line at the road, it is about 15 minutes per car to get inspected,” Tornovish said. “So if you are 10 cars back you are probably an hour to an hour and a half away from being inspected. So even if it was okay to be out on the road, you are a good two hours or more out. I know I value my day a lot more than sitting in an inspection line for over two hours when I know I can just drive around for a while then come back and check it out later.”

Tornovish said they have worked with the police on this issue and believe they will be taking the situation into consideration when they pull someone over with an expired inspection sticker. MacVicar reiterated this and said they will be very mindful of it in certain circumstances.

“We certainly take that into consideration when and if you are stopped for a failed or expired inspection sticker,” MacVicar said. “It certainly does not mean you won’t get stopped with a failed and/or expired inspection sticker but with that being said, we certainly are aware of the challenges that are going on out there and definitely will take that into consideration as well as how long it has been expired.”

“If your sticker is two years old though or three years old, that excuse of the line being too long isn’t going to work with them,” Tornovish added.

There have also been some issues with Don Allen’s computer system, with the most recent problem occurring as recently as two weeks ago. If the system does not work, Don Allen is unable to inspect cars until it is back up and running. Tornovish said that was the “state’s issue” however and it is back to working normally.

“And then if Comcast gets wiped out because everything is over the internet, that causes issues too,” Tornovish said. “So there are just those little things, any little quirky issue of the day can cause issues and a backlog of people.”

This inspection service is the only one available on Nantucket. By comparison, Martha's Vineyard has at least four car inspection stations.

The existence of this service benefits the island in a big way, however it is equally if not more important for Don Allen that the service continues to be provided if they want to remain open for business and selling cars.

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When asked whether they had ever considered ending their inspection service, Tornovish said they had looked into possibly trying to “let it go” in the past but found out pretty quickly that wouldn’t be feasible.

“The state registry people said ‘Well, you’re selling cars and we can’t allow you to just inspect your own cars if there is no inspection station,” Tornovish said. “You can’t legally sell a car that won’t pass inspection so that it is the old catch-22 there.”

Tornovish also cast his doubts on the possibility of another inspection service opening on Nantucket because of all of the logistics that need to be met and the financial investment it would take.

“With the price of real estate, cost of construction, and then all of the requirements of what you have to put in the bay, it makes it cost prohibitive for somebody to wake up one day and say ‘hey I’m going to open a station up in my garage’ because then you are going to have to have an area where people can line up in their cars as well. So if you don’t have a parking lot, you got another problem. As we all know and have talked about, you need to have a place to put cars.”

Tornovish admitted that while he foresees a more fluid inspection line next winter, he doesn’t see this situation going away in the next two months even with the added manpower they were lacking as recently as last month. He said there are several things people can do to help keep the line manageable.

“If there is a line to the end of the queue, drive away. Don’t try to squeeze yourself in there. Go to the beach and read a book – then come back later,” Tornovish said. “Try to come here in the middle of the month. The first and last weeks are always the worst times because people are panicking about needing their sticker. If you have a sticker that expires in May or one of the summer months, try to come here in April or March. I would just say relax and don’t panic. Check back in later after that morning rush or after that lunch rush.”

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