I solemnly vow to end needless idling
Peter Redman, National Post Files
Graeme Fletcher intends to swear off drive-throughs, considering engine idling to be an unacceptably high source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Graeme Fletcher, National Post · Friday, Jan. 7, 2011
Every year I make them and every year I break the darned things — New Year resolutions. This year is going to be different. There is one resolution I am going to keep — I will cut my idling time by three minutes a day.
You see, nothing is as costly to the environment — or my wallet –as needlessly idling an engine. Fuel economy just can’t get any worse — zero kilometres travelled for the fuel consumed. As an incentive, I will fine myself for over-idling. A tax on stupidity, if you will, that will fund my next vacation if I fail to curb my wanton ways.
According to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), "Excessive idling wastes a significant amount of fuel and money and generates needless greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If drivers of light-duty vehicles avoided idling by just three minutes a day, over the year, Canadians would collectively save 630 million litres of fuel and 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and $630-million in fuel costs (assuming a fuel cost of $1 per litre)."
The starting point for my resolution proved to be a no-brainer–eliminate the use of drive-throughs. While NRCan’s numbers paint a vivid picture of the idling problem, the reality is that the three-minute time frame only scratches the surface; it takes appreciably longer than that to navigate the average drive-through.
In 2007, students at the University of Alberta monitored a popular drivethrough in Edmonton for 54 hours. During that time, 3,756 cars idled in line for at least five minutes each. Punching the number of cars and the idle time into NRCan’s idling calculator showed that this single drivethrough accounts for 158,784 litres of wasted fuel every year. The bigger problem, however, is the 385,902 kilograms of GHG emissions that are pumped into the atmosphere annually. Multiply these numbers by the number of drive-throughs across Canada and the magnitude of the problem becomes only too clear, at least to me.
Of course, there is always a dissenting opinion. An executive summary of the Air Quality Assessment for Tim Hortons Restaurants Ontario Canada, as presented in a report to the City of Kingston in 2009, used a number of arguments to suggest that drive-throughs are not bad for the environment. The study was commissioned by Tim Hortons.
The first of the conclusions states that "for a Tim Hortons store with no drive-through, the congestion that occurs in the parking lot, together with the start-up emissions and emissions from the extra travel distance to get to and from a space, all contribute to produce somewhat higher emissions per vehicle compared [with] a store that has a drivethrough."
That does not seem to hold water. Left to idle for five minutes, the average car consumes enough gasoline to drive four kilometres, more than enough fuel to find a parking space. More importantly, an NRCan study completed in 2003 concluded that "there is little (CAC) impact in the choice of vehicle operation (idling or shut down) when the vehicle is stopped for durations between 10 seconds and 10 minutes." This means there is no meaningful difference in the pollution (volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen in criteria air contaminants or CACs between turning the engine off and restarting it versus letting the vehicle idle.
The third Tim Hortons conclusion states: "To put drive-throughs into perspective, the predicted peak-hour emissions resulting from all vehicles in the queue in a Tim Hortons drivethrough are small when compared to idling emissions at an urban intersection (i. e., less than one-fifth). The emissions of smog pollutants and greenhouse gases from a single vehicle using a drive-through are less than 10% and 5%, respectively, of a typical 30-minute morning commute." Sadly, intersections are a necessary evil needed to control the flow of traffic. Similarly, the morning commute is how one gets to work. In other words, the consumption of fuel is for a valid reason in each case.
Conclusion Four says: "The combined emissions generated from all vehicles using a drive-through facility during a peak-hour of operation are relatively small in relation to other common emission sources. For example, the smog pollutant emissions are comparable to a single chainsaw operating for one hour, and the CO2 emissions are comparable to a single bus operating for one hour."
It’s hardly surprising chainsaws spew emissions given that most do not have any form of pollution control. Nor do the lawn mowers and snow blowers cited elsewhere in the Tim Hortons report. However, the catalytic converter, a mandatory item on all modern cars and light trucks, reduces hydrocarbons by 98% and carbon monoxide by 96% — and there are 90% fewer nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions. As for the bus, one cannot realistically compare the CO2 emissions of a mass-transit vehicle ferrying many people around with a car sitting in a drive-through.
The Tim Hortons report concludes: "Overall, the findings for the Tim Hortons stores examined in this study indicate no air quality benefit to the public from eliminating drivethroughs."
Let me make one thing clear: The idling issue applies equally to all drive-throughs and not just Tim Hortons. For me, there is absolutely no way of justifying unnecessary idling regardless of how convenient, or otherwise, it may be to some. I hate taxes as much as the next person, but, if it takes a financial incentive for me to reduce my needless idling time, then so be it.