Here they are, drivers who let their motors run and pollute at will
City workers headed out last week to blitz the streets on behalf of Toronto’s much-ignored bylaw forbidding idling for more than three minutes. While the campaign was admittedly educational, 14 officials handed out 42 tickets for $105 (plus a $25 victim surcharge), two summonses and 147 warnings over the course of the week.
Peanuts. In mere hours, by myself, I found a broad cross-section of errant drivers. To learn the names behind the licence plates, I headed to the Ministry of Transportation. Here’s a rundown of my brief excursion into law enforcement.
The most obvious place to start trolling for idlers seems to be Bay and Bloor after 4 pm, when on-street parking becomes illegal.
As soon as I arrive in front of the Nike store, I stumble on a Dodge Caravan, AHWT 961, belonging to Somerville Rental and Leasing, with its motor running and its exhaust pipe vibrating. I wait three minutes, then walk up to the driver’s window and motion for him to roll it down, which he does with a display of annoyance.
After introducing myself, I ask whether he’s aware of the idling bylaw. “But I’m not idling,” he responds blithely.
Soon, a couple of young women scamper up and leap in. And the car somehow speeds off without starting its engine.
One area that environmentalists complain about is College Street. I haven’t been there long when I come across a Grand Am, licence plate 281 WJF, registered to Manuel Madruga, idling in the shade.
After standing around for three minutes, I ask the driver whether he knows of the bylaw. He says no.
“Now that you know — and I’m sure you realize that the law is in place to protect the quality of the air — don’t you care?” I ask.
“I can’t do nothing,” he replies.
“You could turn off your car,” I offer.
“Yeah, but as soon as my cousin comes, I’m going to go.”
“I see. But you could turn the car off until then, couldn’t you?”
“Yeah, well…,” he trails off with a friendly but dismissive wave of his hand, as though I’d proposed that he eat more vegetables. The car continues to run after he rolls up his window.
At John and Richmond, I find a pickup, licence plate 419 7HV, registered to Stacey Electric. After it has idled at the curb for more than three minutes, I approach the truck, but the driver pulls away.
At Queen and John, I find a Subaru, licence plate AERW 852, belonging to Karel Fearn, idling on the corner, with a bearded, middle-aged man behind the wheel and the windows up. He rolls down the window and I ask whether he’s aware that he’s violating a bylaw.
He says no. “But you see, I’m expecting my wife,’ he says, pointing across the street.
“But couldn’t you turn off the engine until she comes out?”
He smiles, almost fatherly. “Thanks for informing me,” he says, and rolls up his window, leaving the engine on.
On University just north of Queen, I pass a Canada Post truck idling by the sidewalk. I walk up to the door and ask whether he is aware of the bylaw.
“Oh, was I idling for more than three minutes?” he asks.
“Well, you’ve caught me, then,” he chuckles guiltily. “We’re not supposed to do that. But there was a good song on the radio and I guess I forgot to turn the engine off.” He turns the engine off.
At Yonge and Dundas, I pull up behind another idling Dodge Caravan, licence AFHH 162, and wait my three minutes. It’s been rented from Enterprise car rental.
When I ask the driver whether he’s aware of the bylaw, he tells me he is. “So,” I ask, fumbling for words, “why are you doing it?”
“My friend is across the street,” he answers, as if this explained everything.
“Fine, but you could easily turn off your engine, couldn’t you?”
“Yes, you’re right,” he says. “Oh, look, there’s my friend!” he laughs, and drives off without picking up anyone.
I pass a film-shooting on Dundas. I pull over. Sure enough, the first minivan I come across, a Chevy Venture, licence plate AFSA 079, rented from Enterprise by the production, is idling with no driver in it. So I wait for the driver, and wait. And wait.
I’ve been here over half an hour when a grip named Chris who has walked by a few times reaches in the open window and turns it off, saying, “Fuck that shit.”
“What did you do that for?” I ask, having waited 30 minutes for a conversation. “Those bastards leave their trucks running all day, air-con on, windows open. It’s just stupid.”
Back up on Bloor, I find a Pathfinder, a hulking four-wheel drive, licence plate AFDC 977, owned by Sivakaruna Iadurai, idling, half on the sidewalk, while the driver talks on the phone. I wait 13 minutes for his conversation to end, but he drives off without finishing it.
When I call the owner at home later, his nephew translates for him. Like many idlers, Iadurai didn’t know he was violating a bylaw and assures me he won’t do it again.
I’m standing in front of Holt Renfrew when I realize that the Grand Prix right in front of me, AEZE 211, has been idling for some time. So I start my watch. By the time the three minutes are up, Mei Tso is still not off the phone.
I watch her make two more calls. She seems to be talking to a friend on the sidewalk nearby. Finally, she gets off the phone and her friend and I converge at the driver’s window.
“Do you realize you were breaking the law?” I ask.
“Oh, my god! What did I do?,” she asks, climbing out of the car.
I tell her.
“I’ll never do it again,’ she giggles.
Her phone rings. It’s her friend, who has meanwhile got in the car and driven off, leaving Mei behind. Her friend has stopped half a block down and is calling to ask Mei to tell me that she’s idling.
Compiled by Tabassum Siddiqui
Number of T.O. residents who die due to air pollution each year: 1,000
Number of residents admitted to hospital each year for smog-related illnesses: 5,500
Cost of air pollution to the health system: an extra $1 billion every year
Amount of time cars idle per day: 5 to 10 minutes