DENVER | More sustainable drive-thrus??

More sustainable drive-thrus??

August 8, 5:16 PMimage001Denver Sustainable Business Examinerimage001Graham Russell

More and more cities, including some in Colorado, are considering a ban on new drive-thrus, particularly fast-food restaurants, as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from idling vehicles. Most Americans prefer the "convenience" of sitting in their vehicle for ten minutes inching up to a fast-food drive-up window rather than park, walk across the lot and get instant service at the inside counter.

Many studies have been done to determine the GHG impact of idling vehicles at drive-thrus, many of them in Canada like this one focused on a popular drive-thru in Edmonton, showing an average idle time of 5 minutes and a longest idle time of 12 minutes.
Taken across the US as a whole, the number of idling hours at fast-food joints and the resultant tonnage of GHG emissions every day must be quite enormous.

Some municipalities have introduced laws that can slap a hefty fine on motorists who idle more than a certain period while waiting in-line at a fast food restaurant but this is obvious very difficult to monitor.
At a cleantech meeting last week, a friend of mine proposed a much more elegant and creative approach by suggesting that a small tax should be added to the price of every transaction at a drive-thru restaurant (or perhaps even ANY drive-thru establishment). The number of drive-thrus in the US is exploding (see this item from USA Today) because the drive-up option is clearly perceived as more convenient by the American public. Why shouldn’t we pay a bit more for it?

I don’t think for one moment that an extra dime per transaction would alter the behavior at fast-food drive-thrus so the impact on GHG emissions would probably be small. However, think of the beneficial environmental uses such tax revenues could be put. How much could it be? I haven’t seen any studies at all of this idea but let’s use some simple figures.

Extrapolating from worldwide figures, McDonalds’ 13,000 domestic restaurants serve 19-20 million customers per day, 50-60% of them at the drive-up windows, so that’s a total of perhaps 10-11 million drive-thru transactions per day. A ten cent tax on each would generate annual tax revenues of about $380 million, a 25 cent tax nearly $1 billion. Extrapolate that to all of the fast-food and other drive-thru establishments across the country and you have a sum of money that, while modest compared with the trillions currently flying around in various bailout programs, could make a useful contribution to the development of technologies for a cleaner economy. Just an idea!

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