Tim Horton’s and their drive-thrus | Why are We Alive Blog Post

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tim Horton’s and their drive-thrus

Around the Kingston news lately (from CB):

Drive-thrus are valuable to the elderly, the immobile, parents with small children and, believe it or not, are actually better for the environment than cars in parking lots — or so says TDL, the parent company of Tim Horton’s.

Early last month, Polowin presented the RWDI report to Kingston council. Its conclusion — that drive-thrus create fewer emissions than parking lots — is based on a finding that when parkers turn off their cars, the catalytic converter cools and is less efficient at reducing emissions. And so, when the customer restarts the car, a larger, initial spurt of emissions is released. There are a lot of variables to consider when comparing the emissions generated by a parking lot and a drive-thru. While drive-thrus are generally thought of as bad for the environment because people tend to idle their cars, Michael Lepage, a principal with RWDI, says, "the one thing people have missed is how much time people spend idling in the parking lot."

Well, that is a load of shit. Ok, let’s narrow down the factors.

Ambient temperature.
Vehicle temperature.
Type of vehicle.
All have to do with the catalytic converter.

Let’s just keep the vehicle type constant over the average.

What about idle times from start? I.e. the pollution effects controlled by the catalytic converter.

So, why is the catalytic converter so important, and why does it need to get to a certain temperature to work?

Ok, here’s the chemical equation for what the converter does:

  1. Reduction of nitrogen oxides to nitrogen and oxygen: 2NOx→ xO2 + N2
  2. Oxidation of carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide: 2CO + O2→ 2CO2
  3. Oxidation of unburnt hydrocarbons (HC) to carbon dioxide and water: CxH2x+2 + [(3x+1)/2]O2→ xCO2 + (x+1)H2O

Basically, it turns nitrogen oxide into carbon dioxide and water, reducing nitrogen oxide emissions by as much as 70%! Why is nitrogen oxide bad? NO (and NxOx) destroys the ozone layer, reacts with organic chemicals and leads to biological mutations, acid rain, and respiratory issues.

Ok, but there is a catch with the catalytic converters; they need to be warm to work. Most estimates I’ve found seem to be around the 400-600 degrees Fahrenheit. The catalytic convert warms up because it is close to the running engine.

Now, ambient temperatures.

We see two things from this paper. One, that ambient temperature does effect catalytic warm-up times, and two, that these warm up times are linear. Times to complete warm up seem to be in between 12 to 30 minutes. Wow.. 30 minutes? Ok.. from this we’re starting to learn that catalytic converters are meant to reduce emissions for longer, more often than not highway related, drives.

Somehow I don’t see the 5 minutes taken to go inside a Tim Horton’s long enough to totally cool down your catalytic converter. Moreover, I doubt many catalytic converters would be warmed up when entering the drive-thru.

National Resources Canada suggests the 10-seconds rule: if you are idling for more than 10 seconds, it is more efficient to turn your engine off. I found this rule employed quite often in Tokyo when I was there, with drivers typically turning their vehicles off at stop lights.

Ok, after that tangent on catalytic converters, back to the original article. So, I was talking to Jeremy about this, and he mentioned, as the article did, that that an additional, more prominent reason for this drive thru ban would be that people just don’t want the traffic in their back yard.

From another article on the Tim Horton’s subject from The Whig Standard:

"Specifically, the company takes exception to the 50-metre setbacks for drive-thrus from nearby residential properties.

Polowin said those regulations are usually based on issues of noise, most often emanating from the drive-thru speaker box. He said the company is working on making that technology better.

Another issue is how drive-thrus might interfere with pedestrians, and particularly in downtown heritage areas of cities.

Polowin said the City of Ottawa recently adopted his wording on their official plan that sets down more precise guidelines for building esthetics in the downtown core but could still allow for a drive-thru to be built…

Schmolka said the official plan is mainly concerned with traffic flow, pedestrian safety and proximity to residences and that staff may ask for extra studies to deal with concerns."

One final point on that TDL (Tim Horton’s) study.

In an e-mail message, Mr. Glover (a Kingston city councilor) disputed those findings:

In support of their case, they have prepared a report suggesting that drive-throughs are more environmentally friendly than parking lots. Unfortunately, at their presentation to the Planning Committee last Thursday, they said it was based on a sample of 52 cars, which does not seem to me to be a sufficiently large sample to carry much weight. By contrast, the city’s by-law against idling vehicles was based on the science available from Environment Canada. The presentation also seemed to incorporate a number of assumptions that may not be valid.

Basically, Tim Horton’s feels the need to put money toward changing the public perception behind idling because they make so much money from their drive-thrus. I’m not sure how much, but if McDonald’s is making 65% of its cash from drive-thrus, I would bet that Tim’s is over 80%.

As discussed in an older National Post article,

A ban on new drive-thrus was debated in the city of North Vancouver but was rejected in March by city councillors. Coun. Sam Schechter said he proposed the ban as one step towards orienting his city towards more sustainable design.

"It was simply part of better urban design for building cities that are less car reliant," Mr. Schechter said. "You’re orienting your community away from the automobile and towards pedestrian and more sustainable transportation."

Wow… this post is all over the place! Too much information, too little time…

at 5:55 PM

Brewing battle between coffee giant, city appears to be over | Corporate Profits over People Win Again

Brewing battle between coffee giant, city appears to be over


Posted 1 month ago

Tim Hortons appears to have succeeded in getting environmental language removed from the city’s new official plan policy on drive-thrus.

When the new language appears for council approval on Tuesday it will no longer refer to "concerns" about "climate change, air quality and buffering from neighbouring properties."

The Tim Hortons parent company, TDL Group, complained to the provincial municipal affairs minister this summer and threatened to take the city to the Ontario Municipal Board if it didn’t get a chance to rebut the wording.

After a meeting this month between city staff and TDL representatives, new language

Drive-Thru Wait Times Getting Longer

Drive-Thru Wait Times Getting Longer

by David Koeppel, Posted Nov 27th 2009 @ 11:00AM

One of the primary advantages of eating at a fast-food restaurant is getting fast service.

But you can’t get fast service if you’re stuck behind 20 other cars at a drive-thru window. Reports of long waits at drive-thrus and parking-lot entrances have slowed down the service at some fast-food eateries.

It’s gotten so bad that police have been brought in to direct traffic. In July, at a new Sonic restaurant in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., an officer was struck and seriously injured by a driver leaving the popular eatery.

In Peabody, Mass., the opening of the first New England Sonic in August drew excited customers from across the region anticipating their first extra-long chili-cheese Coney hot dog. In the first month, it wasn’t unusual for customers to wait in their cars for up to four hours.

"Typically, traffic levels off as the drive-in becomes a more established part of the community," says Christi Woodworth, Sonic’s director of external communication. "However Sonic and our franchises continue to work closely with municipal authorities on all issues, including traffic flow around the drive-in."

But longer wait times are becoming more frequent around the country.

On a lunch break last year, Stepfanie Romine was driving to a mall in Cincinnati, Ohio, when traffic slowed to a crawl. Up ahead she noticed two sheriff’s deputies directing traffic and assumed there had been an accident. She soon discovered that the deputies were stopping traffic so cars could get out of a Burger King drive-thru. She noticed that another two deputies were doing the same at the Wendy’s next door.

"It’s frustrating when you’re doing lunch-time errands," says Romine, an editor who wrote about her experience on the Daily Spark, a lifestyle blog. "I understand that people need to eat, but at what point do you say to yourself, this is ridiculous? People are stopping traffic to get their 99-cent meals."

At a zoning board meeting last month in Hamilton, N.J., residents turned out to protest the proposed addition of a drive-thru at a local Popeye’s that had been at the same location since 1984. The primary complaint? The drive-thru would increase the already high level of traffic in the neighborhood.

The Sonic restaurants in Hasbrouck Heights (the restaurant where the officer was injured) and Totowa, N.J., continue to draw big crowds and plenty of traffic.

"The fact that Hasbrouck Heights has to have an officer directing traffic outside of Sonic is simply ridiculous in itself," wrote a NJ.com reader. "What was the zoning board thinking when they approved this site?"


We’re Thru | Has the American romance with the drive-through gone sour?

We’re Thru

Has the American romance with the drive-through gone sour?

By Tom Vanderbilt Posted Friday, Dec. 11, 2009, at 5:48 PM ET

The drive-through is where one American obsession—mobility—meets another: consumption. Lately, though, this societal combo platter has come under fire, as people question the drive-through’s environmental impact, its place in the evolving landscape of obesity (a 1,420-calorie Hardee’s Monster Thickburger without having to leave your seat!), and even who has the right to step up to its crackly intercom.

There has always been something odd in the encounter between automobility and architecture; the driver momentarily breaks her sense of hermetic enclosure, while the fast-food employee briefly thrusts himself out of the window, the two meeting amid the sickly sweet commingling of ambient grease and tailpipe exhaust. The car driver doesn’t fully shed her sense of vehicular privacy and has a seemingly easy means of egress (surveillance cameras notwithstanding), which might explain why drive-up windows have become a particular locus of pranks (employees have been subject to sophomoric raps and "fire-in-the-hole" beverage assaults), deviant social behavior (driving naked), and crime (although here the car driver, temporarily exposed, is as much at risk as the employee).

It’s not clear who built the first drive-through restaurant (although In-N-Out trumpets that it used the first speaker system in 1948). But the drive-through’s central place in mainstream culture is actually rather new: McDonald’s didn’t open its first drive-through window until 1975, in Sierra Vista, Ariz., home to a nearby Army base. (One bit of lore alleges the drive-through was created so soldiers could order food without being seen in their fatigues.) Now, however, drive-throughs account for some 65 percent of McDonald’s U.S. sales—a stunning demonstration of the radical shift in traffic culture, and increase in driving, since the early 1970s. The window has become so crucial that McDonald’s actually demolished an outpost that was slated for renovation in San Luis Obispo, Calif., after the city upheld its ban on drive-throughs. (A company spokesman said, "We can’t build a million-dollar McDonald’s and not have a drive thru. We just can’t do it.")

The drive-through was the spiritual successor, of course, of the drive-in restaurant, which still haunts our imagination with its carhops on roller skates, rock music coming through tinny speakers, and root-beer-laden trays attached to the window. But that was car culture 1.0: We were still trying to achieve some marriage of driving convenience and the desire to interact in public.The drive-through, on the other hand, is an adjunct of the growing American commute. People are now too time-starved even to leave their cars, much less sit around and listen to Bill Haley.* (Commuter culture is taking hold around the globe, too: As a Burger King exec told the Wall Street Journal, speaking on the emergence of drive-throughs—ventanillas—in Latin America, "everybody becomes more of a drive-through, hurry-up-and-eat-on-the-run kind of culture.")

The drive-through is a place predicated not on sociability but on pure efficiency. One imperative is to human contact; as QSR magazine (for "quick service restaurant") notes, "wireless headset technology has been credited with increasing traffic by as much as fifty cars an hour at some McDonald’s stores." Other time-savers include stochastic queuing models, multilane drive-throughs (a perception-management tool as much as anything else, as research shows visibly longer lines deter would-be drive-through customers), and technologies like "Clear Sound," which "processes all sounds present at the drive-thru lane and eliminates extraneous ambient noises such as idling engines, mufflers and nearby traffic." Speaker clarity, as it happens, is just one of a set of factors rigorously examined each year by QSR, along with "speed" (Wendy’s was tops, 134 seconds per vehicle) and "accuracy" (Chick Fil-A order-fillas managed to get 96.4 percent of orders right). Popeye’s, if you’re keeping track, seemed to be near bottom across multiple categories.

Fried chicken is no longer the only thing available at drive-throughs, of course: In the past few decades, the drive-through model has undergone category creep. Drive-through flu shots are the latest innovation, joining such services as pharmacies (though you might want to check your order), banks (though the number of windows is said to be shrinking thanks to electronic banking), and, in Southern California, drive-through dairies. Some 23 states, including Arizona, still permit drive-through liquor stores; New Mexico, which once led the country in drunk-driving fatalities, banned them in 1998, though some dispute the correlation between the ban and the lower rate of DUI deaths that ensued. The country now boasts a drive-through department store, a drive-through strip club, and even a drive-through politician. China has even planned a drive-through museum, appropriately dedicated to the car—though it may simply be Dubai-style architectural vaporware.

But despite the Stakhanovite quotas being met by the Bluetoothed cadres across the land, all is not well with the drive-through. The facilities saw a 4 percent drop in business in 2008 due to the recession. And—more threatening still—a number of communities have recently passed anti-idling ordinances, some of which implicate even the fastest drive-through windows. In Kingston, Ontario, for example, the town has been at loggerheads with Canadian doughnut giant Tim Horton’s over the legality of drive-throughs under new legislation. The firm hired a wind engineering consultant, who reported: "[T]he 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" than those produced by drive-through customers. Perhaps, but I tend to handle company-sponsored data with more care than a to-go cup of McDonald’s coffee: I’ve been to many Tim Hortons’, and I’ve never noticed great driving distances in the parking lots. There’s also the fact that some drivers use the drive-through and then park. Not to mention that idling stints longer than 10 seconds produce more emissions than restarting the engine. "Drive-throughs are better for the environment than parking lots are," a company spokesperson argued. Environmentally, this is a bit of a Morton’s fork: Parking lots are hardly the equivalent of natural wetland restoration. Another energy-efficiency expert estimated that queued drivers wasted at least $103,000 in fuel in one year at just three drive-through locations near his home.

Meanwhile, people who would actually contribute no emissions at a drive-through window—pedestrians, cyclists, and the like—haven’t exactly been having it their way. Any number of carless individuals have broached the drive-through fortress, only to be rebuffed with vague rejoinders about "company policy" (though there . Locked out of his car, awaiting a ride from wingman Jeff, he ambles up to a nearby Jack-in-the-Box, where only the drive-through is open; he dutifully queues with the cars but is refused service (eventually bumming a "lift" so he can order).

Funny, yes, but David is onto a real problem here. The proliferation of late-night and 24-hour drive-throughs has led, because of concerns about crime, to an increasing number of places with what amounts to a "no car, no service" policy. One of the ironies in the creation of these zones of spatial exclusion is that they often occur in areas where fewer people have access to a car. Perhaps the logical extension of the whole trend is the drive-through only facility, which restricts nonvehicular access at any hour, as this Seattleite found at a Starbucks. That the coffee chain, which once resisted drive-throughs as too "fast food," should now exclude pedestrians and others entirely is one thing; that the facility was built in a neighborhood with new light rail and burgeoning transit-oriented—and thus pedestrian generating—development is even worse.

But not everyone is taking drive-through restrictions lying down. One Portlander—a cycling mom denied service at Burgerville—went viral, forcing a public change of heart from the company. And cyclists aren’t the only ones clamoring for access: A Minnesota woman suffering from degenerative arthritis, driving a Pride Mobility Celebrity X scooter, was refused service at a White Castle, whose policy is to serve only licensed motor vehicles. (She is reportedly weighing a lawsuit.) Then there’s the curious issue of Amish horse-drawn (and thus no-motorized) buggies, which seem, at least according to several accounts, to patronize fast-food and bank drive-throughs in Ohio and elsewhere.

The fast-food companies, perhaps sincerely, say they exclude nonmotorists because they are concerned about safety. But such excuses fail to account for a larger problem. Even if pedestrians aren’t waiting in the drive-through lane itself, they generally still tend to be about, crossing from the restaurant to their car (often with children coming from play areas) or walking on a sidewalk in front of the restaurant. If it’s not safe for a pedestrian to stand in the drive-through lane, why is it any safer for them to walk in front of it? (In one case, a police officer was struck while directing the traffic in and out of a Sonic drive-in.) The very presence of the drive-through lanes may lull drivers into thinking they are in a car-only space, with only their Chalupa standing between them and the street. Pedestrian safety is indeed one reason many communities don’t want any drive-throughs in town and have sought to keep them away. Anti-discriminatory legislation may provide another tack: Would you like fries with that social justice?

Ultimately, the question of whether bicycles or pedestrians should be allowed at drive-throughs may be less important than the question of whether, in any but the most vehicularized places, drive-throughs should exist at all.


It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. – Jiddu Krishnamurti

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Tim Hortons’ message to anti-drive-thru critics: parked cars cause more pollution.

From Canadian Business magazine, January 18, 2010


Environment: Rumble at the Tim’s drive-thru

Tim Hortons’ message to anti-drive-thru critics: parked cars cause more pollution.

By Laura Cameron

Related Articles

Every motorist knows that drive-thru windows are convenient, but did you know they also are responsible for all kinds of social and civic good? Drive-thrus are valuable to the elderly, the immobile, parents with small children and, believe it or not, are actually better for the environment than cars in parking lots — or so says TDL, the parent company of Tim Hortons.

Facing a tide of municipal anti-drive-thru ordinances, TDL commissioned a study last year from RWDI consultants, based in Guelph, Ont., comparing total emissions given off by customers’ cars that use drive-thrus and those that use parking lots. The controversial result — that cars using drive-thrus produce lower emissions than those using parking lots — is now part of the company’s arsenal when it takes on councils planning drive-thru bans. Such bans are a challenge for every drive-thru-based business, but the stakes are especially high for Tim Hortons — last year, 50% of its $2 billion revenue came in via the drive-thru.

TDL has successfully fought restrictions in several Ontario cities, including London and Ottawa. Its latest struggle has been in the city of Kingston, where it currently has 15 Tim Hortons drive-thrus and wants to add six more. The conflict arose in April, when Kingston’s planning committee drafted a city plan that prohibited building new drive-thrus in the historic downtown area.

Michael Polowin, an attorney for TDL, sent the city council letters objecting to the plan. City staff — whose drive-thru concerns include traffic congestion and impact on nearby residents as well as emissions — met with Polowin and changed the wording of the policy. But TDL was still unsatisfied. "It made it exceedingly difficult under that language to potentially locate a drive-thru anywhere in Kingston," says Polowin.

Early last month, Polowin presented the RWDI report to Kingston council. Its conclusion — that drive-thrus create fewer emissions than parking lots — is based on a finding that when parkers turn off their cars, the catalytic converter cools and is less efficient at reducing emissions. And so, when the customer restarts the car, a larger, initial spurt of emissions is released. There are a lot of variables to consider when comparing the emissions generated by a parking lot and a drive-thru. While drive-thrus are generally thought of as bad for the environment because people tend to idle their cars, Michael Lepage, a principal with RWDI, says, "the one thing people have missed is how much time people spend idling in the parking lot."

Despite Tim Hortons’ claim to have science on its side, the Kingston committee refused to change its plan. TDL then threatened to appeal the matter to the Ontario Municipal Board, which ruled in TDL’s favour in a similar dispute in Ottawa. Polowin also threatened to take civil action if the two sides could not reach a consensus.

On Nov. 20, the city planning committee agreed to change the official plan so that additional drive-thrus could not be located in "special policy areas," like the historic downtown, unless the company submits an urban design study that satisfies the overall plan. That, apparently, is a loophole TDL can live with. Carbon-conscious coffee drinkers, meanwhile, are free to resort to an even greener alternative: walking.


Hard to see what’s at bottom of cup ’til coffee’s gone | Tim Hortons | Drive-thru Battle in Kingston

Hard to see what’s at bottom of cup ’til coffee’s gone

Posted Dec 3, 2009 By Brian Turner