A city bylaw in effect since 1986 prohibits idling for more than three minutes. How can something as harmless as leaving your car running while you flash into Starbucks be a menace?
Keith Stewart of the Toronto Environmental Alliance says Canadian cars idle between five and 10 minutes a day, turning 1.6 million litres of fuel into tons of CO2.
In winter, we're worse. Canadians idle for 75 million minutes each day, the equivalent of a single car idling for 144 years.
An irony of the bylaw is that it's enforced only when the temperature is between 5 and 27 degrees, so on the hottest days of summer, when the smog is most oppressive, we're free to idle all day.
Stewart is quick to point out that idlers aren't doing themselves or their cars any favours. Idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel than restarting the engine. And warming up the car for more than 30 seconds is actually harmful to the motor, heating the components unevenly. One would think it would be easy to convince people to turn off their engines. And Darlene Varaleau of Repair Our Air is finding that it sometimes is.
She's working with corporate and service vehicle fleets to reduce idling time. Since service vehicles spend 20 to 60 per cent of their time idling, they're a natural target. She has lined up Enbridge Gas, Toronto Hydro, the TTC, GO, Canada Post, Bell and the Ontario Trucking Association. And they are all working to reduce idling time.
One of the players that has so far declined to come to the table is the Ontario Motor Coach Association. Both Stewart and Varaleau call attention to the legions of tour buses lined up and idling in front of City Hall.
But Brian Crow of the OMCA explains that it takes five to 10 minutes for a bus's air conditioner to cool it down, and that if the bus can't idle, the driver has to keep circling the block with the air-con going.
Other problem industries are coming to the table. Taxis, of course, are notorious. There are 3,650 taxis in the city, and 9,000 drivers keep them on the road pretty much around the clock. That's a lot of idling.