Idling at drive-thrus creates health problems

Idling at drive-thrus creates health problems  | Beverley J. Anderson is the air quality educator for the Williams Lake Environmental Society, in partnership with the Williams Lake Air Quality Roundtable

Published: June 05, 2009 7:00 PM

People like drive-thrus.  So do fast food chains, since drive-thrus supply more than half of their business.

Banks have now gotten into the act, and there are even plans for drive-thru pharmacies.

You can enjoy a donut and coffee, burger and fries, transfer funds to your chequing account, and fill your prescriptions without ever leaving the car.  No problem.

Except, that is, for a little environmental problem caused by people idling their cars in drive-thru lineups.  Idling is when the motor is running but the car doesn’t move.

Forty-five seconds of idling burns the same amount of fuel it takes to drive one kilometer.

Calculations drawn from a Canadian survey (NRCan’s website) of driving habits and behaviour suggest that many Canadian motorists idle their vehicles for about eight minutes a day (especially in the winter) resulting in a combined total of more than 75 million minutes of idling a day.

This day alone uses more than 2.2 million litres of fuel and produces more than five million kilograms of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and is equal to the amount of fuel required to drive more than 1100 vehicles for a year or to idle one vehicle for 144 years!

The popularity of drive-thrus means longer lines and longer wait times, which means more idling.  Environmentalists, city governments, and TV reporters have noticed.

A CBC news team recently staked out a restaurant drive-thru in Winnipeg for one hour, and not long before that natural resource economists from the University of Alberta observed a restaurant in Edmonton for 54 hours.

In both cases the average wait for every car was just over 5 minutes.

Their study also found that motorists in Edmonton spent almost 5,000 hours idling at drive-thrus annually; it was also estimated that, at a single fast-food outlet outlet, the carbon dioxide emissions were 385 kg per day, or about the same amount of emissions as 17,300 SUVs create on the road.

And what about the potential health hazard to drivers essentially bathing in fumes while waiting in line or the staff who are serving at the windows and have no choice but to breath this in?

The provincial health officer has identified fine particulates (one of the pollutants in vehicle emissions) as the most serious form of air pollution in B.C. when it comes to direct impacts on people’s health.

To top it off, idling for just 15 minutes a week (say, two minutes and a bit for a coffee every day) burns through an extra $60 to $100 of fuel a year, and with the rise in fuel costs we are seeing these days, this will only increase.

If this were in Toronto, London, Niagara Falls, Richmond or any other Canadian city with anti-idling rules, they would also be breaking the law.  Idling bylaws usually make three minutes the legal cutoff.

Other sources such as Natural Resources Canada division of the federal government recommend cutting the engine after 10 seconds.  After that you’re wasting more gas than you would use to restart your car. They focus heavily on what is good for your vehicle — and your wallet.

They report that restarting your car has little impact on the starter and fuel pump:

Any wear and tear incurred is more than made up in the fuel savings.

More than anything, cars and trucks are not designed to idle.

Excessive idling can cause grease, grime and other build-up to accumulate on other engine parts.

Plus, if every Canadian motorist avoided idling for just three minutes every day of the year, carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by 1.4 million tonnes annually. This would be equal to saving 630 million litres of fuel and equivalent to taking 320,000 cars off of the road for the entire year.

Eliminating unnecessary idling is one easy action that Canadians can take to reduce their GHG emissions that are contributing to climate change

Everyone agrees, however, that idling comes down to every driver’s choices. So, next time you’re in a rush to get a coffee, why not beat the smog-filled line-up snaking around the building and just park.

Chances are you’ll be in and out faster than you would if you were still waiting in the drive-thru.

Beverley J. Anderson is the air quality educator for the Williams Lake Environmental Society, in partnership with the Williams Lake Air Quality Roundtable.

Phone 250-392-5997 or e-mail for more information.

Expert’s advice: Don’t waste gas in idle time at fast-food windows

Expert’s advice: Don’t waste gas in idle time at fast-food windows

Friday, June 05, 2009


Robert Davis has a pet peeve.

The retired Navy submariner and PECO energy-efficiency expert sees long lines of vehicles sitting in line at fast-food restaurant drive-through windows and it drives him crazy.

Davis is no off-the-wall crackpot. He has done his homework, counting cars at fast-food joints near his home in South Lebanon Twp., doing research and interviewing the owner of one of the stores.

The way Davis figures it, drivers waste $103,000 or more in gas a year waiting in line for food at just those three restaurants. That’s a considerable amount of money for people to sit and wait for a burger and fries — while tables inside sit empty.

“It’s a big waste,” said Davis, 74. “I talked to the owner at the place down the road. He said 75 percent of his business is at the drive-through.”

So, what is the solution?

Davis has one of those, “well, DOH!” answers.

“People should just go into the store,” he said. “Half the time you go in and the drive-through will have a long line, and the inside isn’t busy at all. The only ones using the windows should be the disabled or people with kids in the back of the car. Is that good sense, or what? What’s hard about that?”

Critics have long said drive-through restaurants add to pollution and waste resources and fuel the nation’s collective obesity.

National Restaurant Association officials have said, through prepared statements, that the choice to use the drive-through or go inside is one made by consumers.

So, is the drive-through really faster?

In an admittedly unscientific test, a crack investigative team — namely, this reporter — picked a fast-food franchise at random in Lower Paxton Twp. at lunchtime Thursday to see how the drive-through compared to getting lunch from the counter.

There were eight vehicles in line. The 4×4 pickup ahead of us jackrabbited away each time the sedan in front of him moved forward. He gunned to the window too fast and stopped too far away to grab the bag from the attendant. He had to lean way out the window to get his lunch and change. Very cool.

The elapsed time from when we entered the line until we were handed the bag of food? Nine minutes, not including the time spent sticking change into a pocket after we left the line.

We parked, walked in, and ordered a coffee to go with the sandwich.

It took seven minutes, from car door to car door.

OK, it was only two minutes faster. But that was seven minutes when the car was not running.

Using the information that Davis has collected, the average wait in a drive-through line uses enough gas to go five to six miles. Those seven vehicles in line ahead of us sucked down enough fuel to drive about 40 miles.

By the way, about half of the tables inside the restaurant were open. At lunchtime.

Davis and a herd of environmentalists and economists with him believe that if Americans simply become more efficient in their lifestyles, dependence on imported oil would no longer be an issue.

“How many guys have spilled their blood so that we can drive our cars?” Davis asked, rhetorically. “We have to be more mindful of what we’re doing.

Drive-thru Banking | To curb smog, banks ask customers to cut engines

Zions Bank is asking its customers to turn the key on air pollution.

In a voluntary effort to help clean up Utah’s smog, all Zions locations are asking their customers to cut their engines when waiting in line at the drive-through.
Bank patrons who use the pneumatic tubes are greeted by large stickers reading, “Turn your key, be idle free. By turning your engine off when waiting, you will breathe easier and save gas.”
The statewide campaign originated in Salt Lake City, where the city was partnering with businesses “to identify ways to educate the public on ways to improve our air quality,” said Rob Brough, executive vice president for Zions Bank. “The drive-through seemed like the logical way.”
The effort to encourage less pollution among its customers is an acknowledgment that the Wasatch Front has a problem. Noting that more than half of Utah’s air pollution comes from vehicle exhaust, the Environmental Protection Agency encourages drivers to turn off their engines anytime a vehicle is going to idle longer than 30 seconds and is not in traffic.
“We recognize that where we are situated here, both in Utah County and in Salt Lake Valley, with the mountains that sort of surround us, it builds up and collects and the air quality is not where we would like it,” Brough said.
Only time will tell if the campaign has a measurable effect, he said. In the meantime, the campaign has garnered positive comments from customers.
“We are a community bank and we live in this community with our families as well, and we all benefit by having cleaner air,” he said.
Joe Thomas of the Utah Division of Air Quality said the program is such a good idea that he himself cuts his engine anytime he’s at any bank drive-through.
If a car is going to be running on idle for several minutes, cutting the engine is a simple and easy way to improve gas mileage, he said. There is a nationwide program to encourage school bus drivers to reduce idle time as well.
“Definitely when the car is idling, you just wasted energy,” Thomas said. “You aren’t doing anything.”
Cutting the engine in a bank drive-through is an especially good idea because in between filling out paperwork and having a conversation with the teller, the transaction could take several minutes, he said.
For information on state efforts to encourage drivers to reduce idle time when driving, visit

Denialism | Tim Hortons

Proposed drive-thru ban irks Timmy’s owner

By Elaine Mitropoulos, Comox Valley EchoMay 5, 2009

John Brocklehurst says he would think twice about opening another business in the Town of Comox should its council outlaw future drive-thrus.

“Even though it may not impact us at the moment, it could if we ever decide to go and open another store,” said the owner of three Valley Tim Hortons.

“I’m convinced this will get turned over at some point but would it impact my decision-making if they outlawed them? Yeah, of course it would.”

Brocklehurst admitted he had a vested interest in drive-thrus, saying 55 per cent of his customers accessed them.

“A lot of people use them for whatever reason, whether it’s for their own convenience or because they have to,” he said.

And while he understood the council wanted to be at the forefront of environmental change, he said he couldn’t understand why it was targeting drive-thrus as a source of pollution among “more obvious” culprits.

“I guess I’m not sure the purpose of it quite frankly,” Brocklehurst said.

“All the information we gathered up says that banning drive-thrus to prevent idling would have no real significant impact.”

Brocklehurst said he had yet to hear feedback from customers, but he was expecting them to come forward as the debate continued.

“I know most people tend not to speak – the silent majority,” he said. “But if they’re being impacted to that extent I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of feedback.”

Comox Mayor Paul Ives said realistically about four to six parcels around Guthrie Road could make way for future drive-thrus, but he didn’t want to deter new or old business from making the town its home.

“Everyone acknowledges that the current situation with the Tim Hortons is not ideal,” he said of the Anderton Road drive-thru that has seen cars line up onto the street.

“I think if they were wanting to move out of there because of the congestion that’s caused there hopefully they could move to another site in Comox.”

Even so, Ives has been pushing for the council to consider a more comprehensive approach to curbing idling in Comox, like a bylaw aimed at education and awareness.

“Other communities have had some success in passing those bylaws,” he said.

He too hoped the public would weigh in on the issue that has split the council.

If the council moves ahead with a rezoning bylaw, he said the issue would go to a public hearing.

“I would like to hear what people would have to say in the meantime,” he added.

A Tim Hortons Renovates to a No-seating Drive-thru

Farewell to Hamilton’s ‘Doughnut U’

Ted Brellisford, the Hamilton Spectator

Hortons demolishes Main and Wentworth store for drive-thru

April 22, 2009

Paul Wilson
The Hamilton Spectator
(Apr 22, 2009)

‘I’m sorry,” she says, and turns her head to brush tears from her eyes.

“This is my place,” she says. “I know all the people. It’s the only time I get out.”

Catherine Daisley is talking about the Tim Hortons at Main and Wentworth.

Last Friday the heavy equipment moved in, and now the restaurant is gone.

It was No. 66 in a chain that has grown to 3,200 outlets. This one had seating for 60. The new Hortons will have seating for none.

It will be a drive-thru, which does loyal customer Daisley no good at all.

She is 65, has heart problems, lives in a large seniors’ building on Sanford and stopped at Hortons a couple of times every day.

She would arrive mid-morning, bundle buggy in tow, for a muffin, a coffee and connections. Then she proceeded to No Frills for groceries. There would be another visit in the afternoon.

The Christmas before last, she sewed fleece mittens and scarves for the staff. And on this day, she is out on the street watching her Hortons fall.

Regular Wally Bochenek, a former DARTS driver, is here, too. He’s owned a home in the area for 40 years. “What a heartbreaker,” he says. “Hamilton is the city that got Hortons started and look what happens.”

Harland Izatt watches the demolition, too. He is a retired art teacher and did portraits of many of the customers at this Hortons.

When the restaurant closed two weeks ago, he gave 10 staff members “Thanks for the Memories” cards, each with a $20 enclosure.

“Tim Hortons really wants to be a community-minded organization, with the kids’ hockey and the camps,” he says. “But this is another community in need, older people, handicapped people.”

Lincoln Alexander, Hamilton’s favourite citizen, rolled his scooter into this Hortons about once a month. “I sympathize with these people,” he says. “But it’s free enterprise and I’m all for that.”

“We agonized over this decision,” says Maureen Sauve. She and husband, Dave, former Ticat president, own seven Hortons. But this was their first. Maureen Sauve knows the date of purchase by heart — March 27, 1988.

The Main and Wentworth store has been an underperformer for some years. All those seats, no drive-thru, and in a struggling part of the core.

And there was not enough land to build a sit-down restaurant with drive-thru, Sauve says.

To avoid traffic getting backed up, the city requires there be room for cars to be “stacked” on drive-thru property.

In this instance, there will be space to stack 14 cars coming off Main, with “alternate stacking” for a few more.

The Sauves own another drive-thru two minutes down the street at Main and Prospect, Hamilton’s first free-standing Hortons drive-thru, a silver spaceship that dropped down one January day 15 years ago.

That was a prefab. The drive-thru at Main and Wentworth, to open at the end of June, will be of brick. “It’s a significant investment in an economically depressed part of town,” Sauve says. “Close to half a million.”

Knocking down the old Hortons had nothing to do with the clientele there, she says. Yes, some stayed a long time, to talk, to do the crosswords. But with so many seats that wasn’t a problem.

“There were lots of characters,” she says, “but characters with big hearts.”

The nearest stores to the one that’s just come down are at Main and Wellington and at Cannon and Sanford, each about a kilometre away. While the new store will help motorists streaming past from the west, it does little to serve those living in the area. The concept of a walkable neighbourhood takes another hit.

I don’t like drive-thrus. I get out of the car. But that’s dangerous these days, because between you and the store door is a snaking line of vehicles headed for the order window.

The store at Main and Wentworth was proudly opened in 1977 by chain owner Ron Joyce. It was dubbed Doughnut University, a training centre for new franchisees and their staff.

“We’ll be baking around the clock so trainees learn the importance of providing fresh products at all times,” Joyce said.

He predicted then that the chain would continue to grow, that the food on offer would move beyond doughnuts and that a cup of coffee would soon jump a nickel to 35 cents. But of drive-thrus, he said not a word.

StreetBeat appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Drive-thru debate divides council

Drive-thru debate divides council

By Elaine Mitropoulos, Comox Valley EchoApril 17, 2009

As the debate drags on, drive-thrus continue to divide the Comox council.

This week’s council meeting saw Coun. Ken Grant, who is staunchly in favour of the fast-food fixtures, question Coun. Patti Fletcher’s motives in wanting to rid Comox of future drive-thrus.

Fletcher owns a bike shop in town and Ken Grant pointed to the store’s participation in the B.C. SCRAP-IT program – an incentive that invites motorists to trade in old cars for new bikes – as a conflict of interest.

The council is considering banning future drive-thrus as a means to curb greenhouse emissions and dependency on gas-guzzling vehicles.

In response to his accusation, Fletcher excused herself from further discussions and voting on drive-thrus, but requested that town staff seek out a legal opinion on the matter.

Coun. Ray Crossley made a motion to defer voting on the rezoning application that would see drive-thrus banned from future developments until legal advice was heard.

The delay was accepted by all but Couns. Ken Grant and Tom Grant.

Coun. Tom Grant argued the council was trying to expedite the demise of drive-thrus without taking into account input from community stakeholders, like the accessibility committee or parents with children.

He said he couldn’t imagine a mother trying to pack a car-full of kids into a Tim Horton’s to buy a half a dozen Timbits.

“That’s just not convenient for them,” he said.

He called for staff to research how other Canadian municipalities have dealt with bans on drive-thrus and for a report to come back to the council.

“I think we can sit back and research things until the cows come home,” said Coun. Russ Arnottt.

“But I think what we need to do is what’s right for our community… In keeping in tune with cows coming home, we need to take the bulls by the horns and be proactive in this.”

Ken Grant went on to call for feedback on the potential ban from the town’s accessibility committee, a motion that was moved unanimously.

“I want to hear what they have to say on the issue,” he said. “We send everything else we do to them… I’m at a loss why we didn’t send this one.”

After the April 15 meeting, Mayor Paul Ives said he was surprised the heated issue was still up for debate.

“I would still like us to look at an anti-idling bylaw. That’s the real issue here,” he said.

“(Idling) is a personal thing that people have to take care of whether they’re in a drive-thru lane or stopping at a store.”

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

SANDPOINT — The city’s proposed ban on drive-through businesses has created a political firestorm

Sandpoint officials fine-tune drive-through proposal

Posted: Tuesday, Apr 14, 2009 – 10:06:04 am PDT
Staff writer

SANDPOINT — The city’s proposed ban on drive-through businesses has created a political firestorm, and some city officials now say the prohibition is unnecessary.

The proposal would, among a host of other changes, limit the use of drive-through businesses to areas zoned for light industrial use. The changes were put before the Sandpoint Planning Commission earlier this month and will reach the full council in May.

The Planning Commission recommended several changes to the document, including, on a split vote, requiring drive-throughs to submit to a conditional use permit rather than an outright ban. Despite the recommendation, the commission kept the original proposal intact, which means the council could choose to ignore the commission’s recommendation, according to City Planner Jeremy Grimm.

“Technically, yes, the total prohibition is absolutely on the table,” Grimm said. “It’s going to be in the proposed ordinance that the council will consider.”

The zone change was designed  to be a temporary measure until the council completes a planned overhaul of all zoning laws, Grimm said.

After receiving more than 100 e-mails on the proposal and speaking with a number of local business owners, Councilman John Reuter now believes a drive-through ban — even temporary — is inappropriate. He said requiring drive-throughs to submit to conditional use permits is more in line with his original intent for the zone change.

Reuter, who introduced the drive-through amendment at October’s Public Works Committee meeting, said his focus with the ordinance has always been on protecting residential neighborhoods. He said when the proposal reaches the full council, he will attempt to safeguard drive-throughs currently in business while adding language to give the zone change a one-year life span. As it stands, the proposal does not have a “sunset clause” and would not allow current drive-through business owners to rebuild if their building was damaged or destroyed.

According to Reuter, the entire ordinance would be unnecessary if it weren’t for the unwillingness of some large corporations to respect the rights of their neighbors and the city.

“We have to have some of these rules now to make sure that when corporations come into Sandpoint they play nice with everybody else,” he said. “That’s not kicking them out, it’s saying play by the same rules that everyone else here has played by for years, for decades.”

Although she has not read the full ordinance, Councilwoman Carrie Logan said she would support legislation aimed at reining in drive-through businesses, specifically restaurants.

“I’m in favor of going forward with modifying the commercial zone as it’s presently configured so it comes more in line with what we envisioned with the comprehensive plan,” she said.

“As a part of that, if there was consideration given to limiting drive-throughs, I would certainly be open to doing that.”

While the drive-through prohibition has been the most controversial aspect of the proposal, nine new site-plan guidelines would also impact Sandpoint’s future.

If passed, the zone change would require all new or rebuilding structures with a 20,000-square-foot building footprint to adhere to a conditional use agreement that, among other rules, would judge the building on how aesthetically pleasing its colors and materials are.

Grimm, who takes credit for the site plan aspect of the proposal, said the aesthetic provisions are designed to guard against large box stores building in areas he believes would be inappropriate.

“Without that provision in there, you could have a Home Depot built on, say, Boyer Avenue. So as the sun is setting, all those people that live on the west side of Boyer are going to have this intense orange glow when they walk out into their yard because of the orange building,” Grimm said.

“There are some business that have obnoxious colors, and when you do it on a 200-foot long wall, it gets overwhelming.”

Grimm said the aesthetic aspects of the proposal are in line with the comp plan, but could not say the same about a complete ban on drive-throughs.

“I think a number of the measures are consistent with the directive of the comp plan,” he said. “With the drive-through, I think that’s probably much more restrictive than what the comp plan … envisions.”