Group raises doubts over drive-thru study
December 15, 2008
Tim Hortons stands by its study of pollution from idling vehicles in drive-thrus, despite a withering critique by the city’s environment committee.
A meeting of the city’s environmental advisory committee on Thursday included a harsh analysis of the company’s study on vehicle emissions at drive-thrus.
“It is not a scientific study, it is a piece of marketing and public relations,” committee member Bob McColl said.
Tim Hortons Inc. retained Guelph-based RWDI to study pollution from vehicles waiting in drive-thru lines.
It concluded the emissions from vehicles waiting in drive-thru lines were less than from cars that had been turned off for a few minutes and then restarted.
But McColl said only five locations out of 3,000 were studied. The study also compared vehicle emissions to “everyday sources” such as a 16-horsepower snowblower and an 11-horsepower chainsaw.
McColl said such engines are rarely used, giving the comparison little relevance.
And a small sample size can have a high margin of error, McColl said.
“These are some of the shortcomings in the report. They are enough to foster skepticism in me,” McColl said.
Tim Hortons Inc. had the study done after learning that Kitchener had joined a growing list of cities that considered tighter restrictions or even outright bans on new drive-thrus.
Nick Javor, senior vice-president of corporate affairs for Tim Hortons Inc., said the RWDI study is absolutely a scientific study.
“The breadth of analysis and range of sensitivities studied deal with any concerns raised about the number of stores in the study. Also, high-volume locations at rush hours were studied,” Javor said in an e-mail.
He defended the comparisons of emissions from chainsaws and snowblowers.
“Readers need to understand the order of magnitude and scale,” Javor said. He noted the study was peer reviewed and is currently under consideration for publication in a scientific journal.
“This all suggests that the study is worthy of broader consideration,” Javor said.
The environment committee voted to pass along the RWDI study to city councillors as information.
The committee also supports changing the way drive-thrus are designed so that people do not have to walk through a line of waiting vehicles.
Tim Hortons and other quick-service restaurants will be encouraged to better promote the option of going inside rather than idling in a drive-thru.
A representative of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel & Motel Association did not like that idea.
“Our windows at the front are how we draw customers in, so the recommendation is a little confusing,” Michelle Saunders, the association’s manager of government relations, said to the committee.
“I would simply say that drive-thrus are widely supported by the public,” Saunders said.
Alain Pinard, the interim director of planning, listened to the critique of the RWDI study, but noted that city staff do not have the expertise to wade into this field of scientific inquiry. That is best left to peer-reviewed journals, Pinard said.
City staff will watch for reactions after the study is published and exposed to more experts in the field.
Pinard called the RWDI study a good start, but said city staff need more information before public policy decisions are based on it.
“We are not experts,” Pinard said.
Some committee members were openly disappointed, having hoped for a crackdown on drive-thrus and a ban on new ones.
“We know cars pollute,” committee member Nirala Sonder said.
“We asked that there be no new drive-thrus and that has not been addressed,” Sonder said.