January 25, 2008


Drive-thrus at fast food outlets have let hungry or thirsty people get what they want in an easy manner. The problem, however, is that vehicles are idling for at least a few minutes while the drivers give their orders and then wait for their item to be served.

That idling time is now becoming a social issue. A vehicle waiting at a drive-thru is polluting and also emitting greenhouse gases, which may contribute to global warming. In addition, a drive-thru may pose a risk for pedestrians in the vicinity.

Some cities, including London, Hamilton, Mississauga and Winnipeg, have started regulating or banning drive-thru businesses. Kitchener council is expected to look at drive-thru operations in March. This item goes on council’s agenda shortly after the city won two drive-thru disputes at the Ontario Municipal Board.

To be sure, the idea of limiting another freedom is not something to relish, but the cost of doing nothing may force councils in Waterloo Region and elsewhere to protect the public good. We all suffer if we don’t cut various kinds of pollutants and emissions.

The Kitchener environmental advisory committee has already called for a ban on new drive-thru restaurants. Yvonne Fernandes, a member of the committee, said, "I think it’s vitally important for us to stand firm on this issue," adding that the city has an "awful lot of drive-thrus."

Speaking for Tim Hortons, Nick Javor, the company’s vice-president of corporate affairs, said consumers have built drive-thrus into their lives. He pointed out that some customers have mobility problems, others have young children in car seats and some people don’t like to walk across dark parking lots.

His points may have some validity but they don’t seem strong enough to counter the environmental concerns. The fast food business would be wise to start asking itself how it can help solve this problem.



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