The Spin Doctors – A Standard Letter from Industry to Mayor & Councillors – from the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association

The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA) Executive Vice President of Government Affairs continues to target mayors and councillors across our country as this issue continues to build momentum across Canada. They are targeting cities considering anti-idling proposals to ensure drive-thrus continue to be exempt.

The CRFA requests to mayors and councillors that urgent meetings are necessary to discuss the ‘mis-information about drive-through idling’ prior to any first reading of anti-idling proposals that are tabled.

The CRFA refers to a study commissioned by Natural Resources Canada (to Taylor Consulting) in 2003 which concluded that for cars with catalytic converters – (which CFRA states make up the vast majority of cars on the road today) – turning the engine on and off will create the same or slightly higher emissions than idling the vehicle between 10 seconds – and 10 minutes.

The CRFA attaches this study from Taylor Consulting to their requests. (Link to study below)

CRFA then speak of their automotive expert Doug Bethune. They state he has echoed this statement in radio interviews (please see attached) calling an idling law one of “unintended consequences”. They go one to state a peer-reviewed study by air-quality engineering firm, RWDI Air Inc. (commissioned by American owned Tim Hortons | TDL Group) concluded that emission levels for high volume drive-though establishments were less than that of a comparable site without a drive-though. The CRFA states that the report found that the congestion that occurs in the parking lot, together with the start-up emissions and the extra travel distance to get to and from a space, all contribute to produce somewhat higher emissions per vehicle compared to a store that has a drive through. The CFRA then take pleasure in advising the mayors and councillors that the idling portion of the Natural Resources Canada website is being reconstructed to correct ‘some previous factual errors on the idling issue’ that the industry itself has corrected them on. [Incidentally – the Natural Resources Canada Idling site was shut down on May 14th – the day after the drive-thru moratorium issue was discussed on CBC radio with Council of Canadians. We have learned through our sources that it was in fact shut down due to pressure from the industry which leaves us with little question as to who is running our country – sadly – our corporations seemingly now have more power than our own governments.]

The CFRA then states that it is also important to note that drive-throughs have a place in our communities – particularly for parents with young children, people with mobility challenges and elderly patrons. They state that their industry will continue to work co-operatively with municipalities to ensure drive-throughs are designed and function appropriately.

CRFA concludes stating they look forward to speaking to mayors and councillors about these issues as soon as possible.

Understanding the spin:

You can actually find the Taylor Report the industry refers to (they call it ‘the report commissioned by Natural Resources Canada) on the CFRA’s website: NOTE: The study states: “This report reflects the views of the author and not necessarily the views of Natural Resources Canada”.

The conclusion in question is in section 5.2 of this report. The conclusion actually supports the 10 second rule (see the first paragraph).

Section 3.2 talks in more detail about the impact of soak time on engine restart emissions – i.e., there is no difference in start-up and driving emissions between an engine that is started up 10 seconds or 10 minutes after it has been shutdown. Also, the reference to the “505 cycle” means the test cycle that consists of the first 505 seconds (seconds 1 to 505) of the EPA Urban Dynamometer Driving Schedule for testing tailpipe emissions from a vehicle – this simulates the first 505 seconds of driving a car.

London city staff state: if every driver in London reduced their amount of idling by 20 per cent per year – or about one minute a day – “1,548,000 litres of fuel, a non-renewable resource, would be saved; 3,760 tonnes of green house gas would not be produced, the same benefit it would take 22,580 trees to duplicate.”

Tim Hortons earlier this year financed what appears to be the first major study on drive-thru idling by RWDI Air Inc., consulting engineers and scientists from Guelph. One of their findings revolves around whether a vehicle idling in a drive-thru queue for five or six minutes pollutes more or less than a vehicle restarted after the five or six minutes it takes for the driver to get his or her coffee inside.

Based on the Tim Horton’s commissioned RWDI information, the emissions from a vehicle starting up after five minutes are equivalent to 2:43 minutes of idling for nitrogent oxides, 1:17 minutes of idling for hydrocarbons and 10 seconds of idling for carbon dioxide.

After examining the RWDI information, the city officials had this comment: “A drive-thru queue of five to six vehicles at a typical Tim Hortons should be processed in around two minutes, which would represent a ‘neutral’ air quality impact scenario compared to parking and walking in for service. Once the drive-thru queue is longer than six vehicles, it would start to have a negative impact on air quality.

But the city report makes one further observation: “For many people, climate change is just as important an issue as local air quality. Given that start up emissions only produce green house gas emissions (carbon dioxide) equivalent to 10 seconds worth of engine idling, the use of a drive-thru will, in most cases, have a greater climate change impact than parking and walking in.”

See our ‘Deconstruction of the RWDI report’ for further information:




The RWDI Report:

The fast food industry touts the RWDI report as proof that drive-thrus are better for the environment but in looking at the report we find the report selective, manipulative and in some respects merely makes the case for why drive-thrus generate a greater burden upon climate change and air quality, even though the report’s conclusions on page 24 (18-490) suggest otherwise.

The focus of the RWDI report seems to be on the morning peak rush hour, using a Tim Horton’s restaurant on Bank Street in Ottawa as the “control” example of emissions from a non drive-through facility.

The RWDI report concludes on page 24 (18-490) that drive-through emissions are lower relative to the non drive-through restaurant. Yes this is true, but only for the one hour that the study focuses upon.

The RWDI report states quite clearly that in a restaurant where there is ample parking the GHG emissions are less than 1/3 for someone parking their vehicle compared to using the drive-through. By extension one has to ask the question what would be the emissions profile during non-peak hours, and what would be the emissions profile at a restaurant that had ample parking. Looking at the report I would call your attention to Appendix D which presents “Emission Calculations by store and by Scenario”

If you compare Appendix D (18-514) item 2.4 “Drive-Through Emissions for the individual stores you will find the emissions 70% higher than in the item 2.5 below “Parking Lot Emissions” listed immediately below. Our conclusion is that this shows that given ample parking non-drive-through facilities are better for our environment.

At restaurants where there is ample parking, the statistics shown in Appendix D on page (18-514) of the RWDI report clearly demonstrate that drive-thrus are a contributor of greater GHGs… By extension, Tim Horton’s should be closing down all of their drive-thru windows where this situation exists. RWDI report can’t have it both ways.

We further argue that the one Tim Hortons without a drive-thru must be excluded. The reason it must be excluded is the probability that the reason for the tremendous traffic congestion has to do with general traffic problems in the area. It is likely a drive-thru request was turned down for this location by city planning. This particular location really needs to be looked at critically. Consider that in all of the ones with drive-thrus and walk-ins the times are most often quite similar. The average time is higher for walk in service but if we look at the distribution in the tables it is clear that most people get in and out in about the same amount of time. It’s just that some walk in people and sit down to consume their purchases within the store. However, in the one location where there is no drive-thru there is no one is getting out fast. This Tim Hortons is clearly massively busy compared to its capacity and cannot be compared to the other ones. It must be excluded from the study. If this specific location was to be excluded; the obvious result would be that walk-ins win on every single measure.

The only legitimate conclusions that could be made from the RWDI report are that:

1) using a drive thru during the morning rush hour with limited / congested parking problems will emit less emissions compared to their control restaurant which does not have a drive thru (this is a parking problem & should be recognized as such)

2) using a drive thru when there is ample parking emits 3x more emissions compared to parking. By extension, during the other 23 hours or 17 hours of operation (assuming that some restaurants are open 24 hours or from 6:00 a.m. until midnight) they should shut down the drive-thru windows.

The Industry’s approach has been appalling. They are “circling the wagons”, in this case shielding themselves behind pregnant women, women with young children, and elderly men with walkers.

We challenge the industry to take responsibility that they are in fact part of a huge emissions problem, and we challenge industry to adopt a less defensive approach that would be part of the solution. The minimum we expect is the industry to start by giving their drive-thru customers the opportunity to pay an extra 10 cents for every purchase that would go into a carbon or environmental fund. We feel this would be a positive first step in education and awareness.

The following is a quote from the Vermont Idle-Free Zone website: Drive-thrus except if driving a hybrid vehicle which seldom idles–should be avoided. By far, what is best for both drivers and all people in the vicinity is to park the vehicle, turn it off and go into the place of business. Besides providing some exercise, this will save fuel, engine wear-and-tear and keep emissions out of the atmosphere.

RWDI Audio: CBC Radio

Jan. 25, 2008

On our show about banning drive thrus, there was discussion about a study that suggests heading to the drive-thru window may cause fewer emissions than parking. Many of you wanted to know more about that study. And so did we. It turns out the study in question was commissioned by TDL the parent company for Tim Horton’s. Mike LePage is the principal scientist with the company that did the study RWDI air.

It’s an engineering consulting firm which specializes in air quality issues. (runs 08:06 | RealAudio)

CBC Video – The Environmental Costs of Drive-thrus 05/28/2007


The environmental cost (Runs 3:05)


Calling UWO Environmental Studies Department…RWDI Review …

Where are our esteemed academics in London? We hope they are not lost under a big mountain of throw-way coffee cups. If you are out there – you know who you are – please contact us.

Comment from a scientist in Halifax:

“I’ve briefly looked over the report and it definitely appears to be exactly that.. a circling the wagons approach. There are several problems with the study. Have you attempted to collaborate with the UWO environmental studies department. Perhaps someone there would really enjoy writing a critique of this report. It’s very bad. What they show is that one walk in restaurant that does not have a drive thru has particular traffic congenstion problems. This is probably why it doesn’t have a drive thru in the first place. The entire area probably has traffic congenstion problems.”

“I wouldn’t be worried about cold calling the department. Many scientists would find writing a brief report refuting crap like this both fun and a civic duty.”