NEWS: Drive-thru bans and idling laws across the country

June 23rd, 2008

Several CanWest papers are reporting today about the various drive-thru and idling bylaws being considered by municipal governments across the country. You can read the article here: While this is not directly linked to the Council’s main campaigns, it is clearly an issue with momentum that chapters have taken a big lead on. A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and moving away from a car-based culture should also be part of any future energy strategy aimed at securing our energy security.

Stuart Trew

Regional Organizer (Ontario-Québec)

Council of Canadians

Tel: 613.233.4487, ext. 228

Toll Free: 800.387.7177

Fax: 613.233.6776

Here’s the breakdown of local actions, according to the CanWest article (note decisions in Sarnia, ON next week and a meeting tonight in Kentville, N.S.):

SARNIA, ON: “Sarnia, Ont. city councillors will likely put the brakes on further talk of a ban on drive-thrus next week after a staff report recommended the city create new guidelines rather than a moratorium… [T]he staff report, to be tabled at a council meeting today, suggests amendments to clarify where new drive-thru businesses should be located.”

NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C.: “A ban on new drive-thrus was debated in the city of North Vancouver but was rejected in March by city councillors.”

KENTVILLE, N.S.: “Tonight, town officials in Kentville, N.S., — about 90 kilometres west of Halifax — will debate establishing an anti-idling bylaw…. But Coun. Eric Bolland, chairman of the town’s environmental advisory committee, would like to see his colleagues consider a prohibition on future drive-thru development. ‘Drive-thrus encourage the idling of vehicles, discourage parking, turning off cars and saving gas,’ he said.”

LONDON, ON: “Proponents of a new bylaw in London argue it is one step towards reducing car emissions, but the association representing restaurants in Ontario dismisses the argument as misleading and has launched its own petition and website.”

VICTORIA, B.C.: Dr. Richard Stanwick, Vancouver Island’s chief medical health officer, says that once a proposed anti-idling bylaw is given a test drive in the Victoria region, it could be expanded to include all of Vancouver Island.

There are also many other municipalities who have idling bylaws that are not mentioned in the article.

Industry backlash and greenwash

The line being used by the restaurant associations is that idling creates less damaging emissions than turning off and then on your car engine. The Canadian Restaurant and Food Services Association has set up a web link to downplay the environmental impacts of idling and drive-thrus:

Industry groups have also set up a peudo-grassroots campaign to fight to save the drive-thru: In one particularly ridiculous argument, the industry says that: “Many people need drive-thrus. Drive-thrus are a vital access point for the disabled, seniors, and parents with small children. In bad weather they are especially helpful. They also enhance personal safety in unfamiliar areas late at night.”

The London chapter, which is leading the push in that city for a moratorium on drive-thrus, has posted an op-ed countering this counter-campaign that can be drawn from in letters to the editor on the issue of idling and drive-thru bans. The article concludes:

“London already has 160 drive-thrus. Whether in blissful ignorance or conscious disregard, to continue to act like we are simply entitled to more – and by implication more urban sprawl, more cars, more oil, and more greenhouse emissions – constitutes a planetary arrogance of frightening proportions… The City of London has the opportunity to take a very important first step in overcoming this outmoded approach, and beginning to envision the future of our cities in a way that is denser, less resource intensive, and ultimately more in step with our responsibilities as global citizens.”

You can find this op-ed here:

According to Cory with the London chapter, the industry-backed pro-drive-thru campaign has children handing out flyers and asking people in drive-thru lanes to support the petition, which has over 32,000 signatures on it. These children are sucking in exhaust fumes for the sake of allowing corporations like Tim Hortons and McDonald’s to sell junkfood to people in their cards, says Cory.

More studies backing the drive-thru ban

As reported by the Canadian Press ( on December 8, 2007: “Students at the University of Alberta monitored a popular Tim Hortons outlet in Edmonton last year for 54 hours and counted 3,756 vehicles idling for an average of more than five minutes each. The longest idle was more than 12 minutes.”

Additionally, the Edmonton Sun reported that, “A 2006 University of Alberta study found that vehicles idling in fast-food drive-thrus across Edmonton contribute about 8,600 tonnes of emissions per year into the atmosphere.” A study conducted by the Ontario Medical Association in 2005 estimated that there are 5,829 premature deaths and 16,807 hospital admissions due to air pollution each year.

The Toronto Star has also recently reported ( about a developer by the name of Dave de Sylva who did his own study.

“By his calculation, which was based on a formula used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the cars lined up at Markham’s 29 drive-through establishments uselessly burn 435,185 litres of gasoline a year. That’s enough to let an average car circle the globe 85 times,” claims the article. “As for greenhouse gas emissions, de Sylva calculates the damage at 118 tonnes of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.”

1 Comment

  1. Dear Editor.
    Are you aware of my anti idling efforts in New York City. The anti idling laws are 38 years old, but are virtually unenforced. 2.5 years ago I had the laws printed on one side of a business card and the penalites on the other. I have a one many vigilante campaign to enforce the laws the police or DEP will not. I have over 1800 encounters to date on an excel spread sheet with an 80% success rate. Media coverage of my activites stretches from the New Yorker Magazine, NPR and WCBS news. The New Yorker pieces has been picked up bay blogs world wide. Perhaps most important is that I’m doing a documentary film on this 2.5 year adventure. Perhaps we can collaborate? More inisght can be found on the website listed above. Regards GEORGE PAKENHAM

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