2 Existing Idling Control By-laws in Canada

Various types of anti-idling provisions have been written into municipal by-laws for at least three decades. The City of Montreal passed an air quality by-law in 1970 that prohibited vehicles from idling more than four minutes if they were parked less than 60 metres from an opening of a building. The Town of Caledon first included anti-idling provisions in a noise by-law, in 1986. Several other municipalities included anti-idling provisions in noise by-laws in subsequent years. The intent of anti-idling provisions in noise by-laws is primarily to prevent disturbance from noisy vehicles idling in, or near, residential areas, rather than to reduce noxious air emissions. A few municipalities have developed anti-idling provisions in nuisance or parking by-laws as well.

The first stand-alone idling control by-law was passed by the City of Toronto in 1996, after several years of discussion and negotiation among City politicians, staff and the public. Most idling control by-laws that have since been passed are very similar to the Caledon or Toronto by-laws, though the newer by-laws contain many variations in the application and wording.

Currently, more than 20 Ontario municipalities have either stand-alone idling control by-laws, or anti-idling provisions in other by-laws. Approximately two-thirds of these by-laws have been passed recently. Our research found no municipalities outside Ontario that have stand-alone by-laws, though many have anti-idling provisions in other by-laws and have mounted effective idle-free campaigns or do substantial work on outreach and education in their communities. In 2004, the Greater Vancouver Regional District finalized a model idling control by-law and recommended its adoption by municipalities in the Greater Vancouver area. At the time of writing, the City of Vancouver is considering adoption of this model by-law.Footnote 1

Fourteen municipalities in southern Ontario now have idling control by-laws, including six in the Greater Toronto Area. At least eight other municipalities – including Markham, Newmarket, Oshawa, the City of North Vancouver, Vancouver, Welland and Whitby – have plans to pass stand-alone by-laws in the near future. At least 12 communities in Ontario and B.C. have anti-idling provisions in other by-laws. Individual citizens and local environmental organizations have encouraged several other municipalities to consider and implement such by-laws.

Some municipal councils – including Brampton, Whitehorse, Burnaby and New Westminster – have considered passing idling control by-laws, but decided against a regulatory approach largely on the grounds that the by-laws are difficult to enforce.

2.1 Stand-alone By-laws

2.1.1 Municipalities with Stand-alone By-laws

At the time of writing, 15 municipalities, all of them in Ontario, have passed stand-alone idling control by-laws. These include: Burlington, Guelph, Huntsville, Kingston, London, Markham, Niagara Falls, Oakville, Pickering, Stratford, Toronto, Vaughan, Whitchurch/Stouffville, Windsor and Woodstock.

2.1.2 Features of Existing Stand-alone By-laws

Typically, stand-alone by-laws contain the following:

  • Legal basis of the by-law. Each province and territory has enabling legislation that grants authority to municipalities to regulate with respect to nuisances, health, safety and well being of the inhabitants of a community, and this legislation is cited in the by-law.
  • Rationale for the by-law, usually setting out concerns about air pollution from vehicle emissions and their adverse health effects. Recently, some jurisdictions have added to the rationale the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Definitions of terms such as idling, layover, mobile workshop, stopover, transit vehicle, vehicle, and others.
  • General provisions of the by-law, that set out the time beyond which vehicles are not allowed to idle. Typically, municipalities set a 3- or 5-minute limit. Some municipalities also specify areas of the community where idling is prohibited – usually residential areas. Three municipalities – Kingston, Toronto and Windsor – prohibit the idling of boats as well as motor vehicles.
  • Exemptions from the by-law. Most recent by-laws have a large number of exemptions from the prohibition against idling. The following are typically exempted from the idling provisions, except where idling is "substantially for the convenience of the operator:"
    • Fire, police and medical service vehicles
    • Vehicles participating in emergency activity
    • Vehicles stuck in traffic
    • Hot (+27°C) or cold (-5°C) weather conditions
    • Passengers with a medical letter certifying their need for controlled temperature or humidity
    • Mobile workshops with equipment powered by the motor, during the course of their work
    • Where idling is necessary for maintenance or repair of the vehicle
    • Transit vehicles while passengers are embarking or disembarking
    • Transit vehicles at a layover or stopover with passengers on board
    • Vehicles in a parade or other event authorized by the community
    • Armoured vehicles.
  • Administrative and Enforcement Provisions. This section indicates that a person who contravenes the by-law is guilty of an offence and is liable to a penalty as provided for in the relevant enabling provincial legislation. Although many existing by-laws do not specify the enforcement agency, some by-laws include a clause that identifies the agency or agencies responsible for enforcement, for example:
    • By-law enforcement
    • Parking enforcement
    • Police
    • Public Health inspectorate (the City of London is the only municipality that has allocated enforcement responsibility to its public health department).
    Most of the existing by-laws don't specify a set fine for contravening the by-law, although about half the municipalities with stand-alone by-laws do have set fines. To date, set fines vary from a low of $100 to a high of $380. For those jurisdictions without a set fine, the offender must attend a court hearing, where the maximum fine for conviction may be much higher. These provisions vary from province to province (and any municipal legal department would be able to cite the relevant regulations). The Ontario provisions for applying a set fine or issuing a summons – which govern all the existing stand-alone idling control by-laws – are outlined in the sidebar on the next page.
  • Enactment. This sets out the date when the by-law comes into force. Most municipalities enact the by-law on the date it passes, but a few have delayed the date it comes into force in order to inform and educate the public first.

Table 1 in Appendix B provides a summary of the key features of 14 stand-alone idling control by-laws in the Province of Ontario and the model by-law proposed by the GVRD.

Idling control By-laws and the Ontario Provincial Offences Act

Ontario municipalities that enact an idling control by-law, can enforce it under the terms set out by Part 1and Part 3 of the Provincial Offences Act.

Part 1 of the Provincial Offences Act, "Commencement of Proceedings by Certificate of Offence," allows a provincial offences officer to issue a ticket certifying that an offence has been committed, and indicating the set fine for the offence, or to issue a summons. Only about half of municipalities with idling control by-laws have applied to the Attorney General for a set fine. A ticket with a set fine allows the offender to pay by mail, simplifies the enforcement process, and reduces the costs associated with administrative proceedings. To date, the set fines vary from a low of $100 to a high of $380. For those jurisdictions without a set fine, a summons is served and the offender must attend a court hearing, where the fine for conviction may be up to $500. A Part 1 certificate of offence must be served on the person charged.

Part 2 of the Act, "Commencement of Proceedings for Parking Infractions," allows for ticketing a vehicle, rather than the offending driver. This allows enforcement officers to leave a ticket on the windshield, rather than wait for the driver to appear. Several enforcement officers consulted during this research suggested that Part 2 of the Act should be enlarged to include vehicle idling offences, to make enforcement easier. However, Part 2 cannot currently be applied in the enforcement of idling control by-laws.

Part 3 of the Act, "Commencement of Proceedings by Information," allows Ontario municipalities to make a complaint to a Justice of the Peace on the basis of information from witnesses (including enforcement officers). If the municipality chooses this option, it makes a complaint to a Justice of the Peace, who will issue a summons to the offender to appear in court and answer to the charge. A Part 3 summons may be issued if a vehicle drives off while an enforcement officer is attempting to speak to a driver, or is writing a ticket. This provision allows for a summons for several offences, and provides a fine of up to $5000.

2.2 Anti-idling Provisions in Noise and Other By-laws

2.2.1 Municipalities with Idling Provisions in Other By-laws

Anti-idling provisions are sometimes incorporated in municipal noise by-laws or other by-laws. Brampton, for instance, has an anti-idling provision in its Traffic and Parking By-law. At least eight other Ontario municipalities have anti-idling provisions in their noise by-laws, and some municipalities in B.C. have provisions in nuisance or other by-laws. A few municipalities have both stand-alone idling control by-laws and anti-idling provisions in noise by-laws. According to several municipal enforcement officers consulted for this report, the anti-idling provisions in noise by-laws are as a result of noise complaints about vehicle idling, rather than concerns about vehicle emissions and air pollution. However, these by-laws might still be used to restrict unnecessary vehicle idling based on emissions concerns.

The municipalities which have anti-idling provisions in noise, nuisance or other by-laws include: Brampton, Caledon, Kingston, Montreal, Markham, Nanaimo, Newmarket, District of North Vancouver, Ottawa, Richmond Hill, Vancouver and Victoria.

2.2.2 Typical Features of Idling Provisions in Noise, Nuisance and Other By-laws

Because noise is the driving force behind these anti-idling provisions, they differ in many ways from stand-alone by-laws. These by-laws usually contain the following features:

  • Legal basis of the by-law. In Ontario, the legal authority for noise by-laws passed after 2001 is Section 129 of the Municipal Act, which authorizes local councils to regulate and prohibit with respect to noise.
  • Rationale of the by-law. This is usually to secure an environment free from noise and vibration that may degrade the quality of life or create a nuisance.
  • Definitions of terms such as authorized emergency vehicle, conveyance, highway, noise, residential area, sound, etc.
  • General Provisions, which prohibit the emission of sounds resulting from specific acts listed in the by-law. The application of the by-law is often restricted to certain locations and/or certain periods of time. Typically, idling is prohibited for more than 5 minutes. In several municipalities, idling provisions only apply in residential areas or "quiet zones."
  • Exemptions from the by-law. The following idling situations are frequently included as exemptions for anti-idling provisions in noise by-laws:
    • Vehicle is in an enclosed structure
    • Continuous operation is essential to the basic function of the vehicle or equipment
    • Equipment manufacturer recommends longer idling periods
    • Weather conditions justify the use of heating or cooling systems for the welfare of passengers, animals or cargo
    • Low temperatures require idling after start-up
    • Idling is for the purposes of flushing the radiator (where the work is performed other than for profit).
  • Administrative and Enforcement Provisions. Noise by-laws are administered and enforced by the by-law enforcement department and officers. Few noise by-laws have set fines, and so enforcement usually requires issuing a summons and a court appearance.

The key features of noise and other by-laws with anti-idling provisions are summarized in Table 2 in Appendix B.

2.3 Best Practices

2.3.1 Situating Idling control By-laws within a Clean Air Plan

Several municipalities have developed idling control by-laws as part of more comprehensive clean air strategies to address air quality concerns as well as climate change. These broad-based clean air strategies can include some or all of the following elements:

  • Environmental purchasing policies
  • Green fleets policies
  • Employee trip reduction programs
  • Improvements to public transit
  • Land-use planning to reduce sprawl and support transit, walking and cycling
  • Energy-efficiency and energy conservation strategies
  • Green power programs
  • Activities to reduce the urban heat island effect including greenspace enhancement.Footnote 2

2.3.2 By-laws as Part of a Comprehensive Anti-idling Policy

In several municipalities, an idling control by-law is one part of a consistent and comprehensive approach to reducing unnecessary vehicle engine idling. A comprehensive approach, in place in several jurisdictions, includes the following elements:

  • Internal anti-idling fleet policies, to ensure that the municipality gets its own house in order, and to deflect complaints from the public when a broader idle-free campaign is launched or municipal idling control by-law passed and enforced. Internal anti-idling programs can involve:
    • General education of municipal staff through newsletters, e-mail, payroll reminders, education sessions, contests and prizes for putting idle-free decals on vehicles, etc.;
    • Incorporating idle-free information in driver training manuals and orientation sessions, with periodic updates and reminders
    • Installation in fleet vehicles of data recorders that monitor idling and fuel efficiency, among other factors;
    • Installation of idle-limiting devices in fleet vehicles and equipment; and/or
    • Participation in anti-idling "fleet challenges" to motivate staff and demonstrate the commitment of the municipality to being idle free.
  • Ongoing idle-free education and awareness campaign for the general public, which may include:
    • Idle-free media events and messages, especially at the start of smog season each year;
    • Making idle-free information cards available for interested groups and venues, including schools, businesses, municipal buildings and staff;
    • Setting up and staffing idle-free displays at libraries, shopping centres, and other high-traffic locations;
    • Making presentations to community groups and private fleets;
    • Implementing "idle-free zones" in areas prone to frequent vehicle idling; and/or
    • A community-based social marketing approach at idling hotspots to persuade drivers to change their behaviour.
  • An idling control by-law, with a clear enforcement strategy potentially including
    • A communications strategy, including announcements prior to enacting the by-law;
    • Signage at municipal buildings and in idling "hot spots";
    • Dedicated enforcement responsibility;
    • Training of enforcement officers;
    • A clear procedure to follow up complaints, possibly including dedicated phone line if numbers of complaints warrant;
    • Agreement with the province (the Ministry of Transportation in Ontario) to supply owner information for the licence plate numbers of offending vehicles;
    • Request to the province to provide a set fine for the idling offence (which creates an effective deterrent, makes ticketing easier, and helps the municipality avoid time-consuming court appearances); and/or
    • Enforcement campaigns, which may involve handing out mock tickets and/or information cards, warning letters, tickets or summonses to idling drivers.

2.4 Strategic Considerations

Municipal representatives consulted for this study identified two main areas of potential difficulty in the development and implementation of idling control by-laws, including:

  • Specific provisions and exemptions in the by-law; and
  • Enforcement administration and resources.

Other strategic considerations that should be taken into consideration by municipalities considering development of an idling control by-law include:

  • Type of by-law (stand-alone idling control by-law versus anti-idling provisions in another by-law);
  • Penalties; and
  • Evaluation of the impact of the by-law.

2.4.1 Issues in the Provisions of Idling control By-laws

To date, stand-alone idling control by-laws in Canada have been modelled after the version adopted by Toronto in 1996. This by-law limits idling to 3 minutes in a 60-minute period, and is characterized by a large numbers of exemptions. All the by-laws passed since 1996 have contained most of the exemptions that Toronto first proposed. However, several municipalities have lengthened the allowable idling time in their by-laws to 5 minutes and in one case, to 10 minutes.

The City of Toronto is currently revisiting their by-law with a view to strengthening it. In the course of this research, by-law enforcement officers and environmental staff in a number of municipalities identified several problematic provisions of the existing by-laws, including:

  • Inconsistent Provisions from Municipality to Municipality. Personnel from several municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area commented on the inconsistency of by-laws among neighbouring municipalities and the difficulties that drivers have in knowing what the rules are and at what arbitrary place on the map these rules change. More consistent by-laws across regions, and similar enforcement practices and penalties would increase the impact and effectiveness of idling control by-laws.
  • Large Number of Exemptions in the By-laws. The exemptions in the Toronto by-law were the result of a significant process of public consultation. At the time of enactment, each exemption had a rational justification. However, in practice, the large number of exemptions results in a very uneven application of the by-law and excuses many highly visible vehicles from the requirement to reduce idling. This limits the impact of the by-law on reducing emissions. It also creates a feeling among some citizens that the law is unfair, because it is not applied to all idling vehicles.Footnote 3
  • Temperature Exemptions. The Toronto by-law, and several others exempt vehicles from idling limits where the inside temperature of the vehicle is above 27°C or below 5°C. At least six by-laws passed in recent years provide an exemption when the outside temperature is above 27°C or below 5°C. Three jurisdictions have done away with the temperature exemption altogether, and the model by-law proposed by the GVRD makes no mention of a temperature exemption.Footnote 4 Markham's by-law provides for an exemption when the temperature is below 0°C or above 30°C. The temperature exemptions create several problems. First, enforcement personnel point out that it is almost impossible for a by-law officer to determine the inside temperature of a vehicle. It is possible to determine the outside temperature, but the outside temperature exemption still requires an enforcement officer to check the temperature during the time of the idling offence, which complicates enforcement. Smog days often occur when the temperature is above 27°C and so the idling control by-law cannot be enforced on the days when it would be most important to do so for air quality purposes.Footnote 5
  • Extended Idling Times for Transit Vehicles on Layover or Stopover. Typically, transit vehicles are allowed to idle for 10 or 15 minutes while on a layover or stopover. Some by-laws limit this idling to times when passengers are on the bus. Others prohibit this idling when it is "substantially for the convenience of the operator," which may be difficult to determine. Diesel-powered transit vehicles can consume large amounts of fuel when idling, and create significant exhaust emissions.
  • Idling time allowed. Much of the literature currently promoting idling control behaviour suggests that a car should idle for no more than 10 seconds. Yet existing by-laws allow idling by the general public for three, five, and in some instances, ten minutes, and allow transit vehicles to idle for ten or fifteen minutes.
  • Inconsistent Idling Provisions in Idling control and Noise By-laws. A few jurisdictions have a stand-alone by-law as well as anti-idling provisions in a noise or other by-law. In at least two municipalities, the provisions differ in respect to the amount of time the idling is allowed – with 3 minutes allowed in the idling control by-law versus 5 minutes in the noise by-law. This could result in difficulties enforcing the shorter time limit.

2.4.2 Enforcement Issues

Many of the idling control by-law provisions described above have an impact on enforcement. There are a number of additional issues related to enforcement that also arise in most municipalities with idling control by-laws.

There are several ways in which municipalities could choose to enforce idling control by-laws. These include:

  • Complaints-based enforcement, usually initiated by telephone calls from the public, making a complaint about a one-time or chronic idling problem;
  • Enforcement blitzes, during which enforcement officers undertake an enforcement campaign designed to get media and public attention for the by-law and to alert the public to the willingness of the municipality to enforce it;
  • Ongoing proactive enforcement, in which enforcement officers enforce on an ongoing basis; or
  • A mix of the aboveFootnote 6

Most municipalities with idling control by-laws take a complaints-based approach to enforcement. Typically, this involves taking a complaint over the telephone, and if the reported idling appears not to be covered by an exemption, sending out an enforcement officer. There is usually a lag time between complaint and response due to shortages of staff or other enforcement priorities. If the idling driver is still on the scene, then the officer will usually talk to them about the by-law, but not issue a ticket or summons on a first complaint. If, as is more likely, the idling driver has moved on or turned off the vehicle engine, then the officer may collect further information from the complainant, and may send out a warning letter, if the idling driver is known or a licence plate number has been recorded and if the municipality has an agreement with the province to supply the owner's name and address.

From the information collected for this report, it appears that no municipalities have committed to an ongoing, pro-active enforcement strategy of seeking out offenders and issuing fines or summonses. To date, a number of municipalities with idling control by-laws have issued no fines or summonses to enforce the law. Although one municipality has conducted three time-limited enforcement campaigns since 1999, it has been reluctant to repeat the effort.

Many reasons are given for the reluctance of municipalities to actively enforce idling control by-laws, including the following:

  • A number of municipalities regard the by-law – together with signage and general public information on the problems of idling – as a sufficient deterrent to idling behaviours, and do not regard active enforcement as necessary or desirable.
  • By-law enforcement departments are stretched thin and no new staff resources have been allocated to these departments following passage of the by-law.
  • By-laws that address safety issues in the community have a higher priority for enforcement staff.
  • Enforcement of idling control by-laws as they are written is very time-consuming. Where a by-law officer sees a vehicle idling, he or she must wait several minutes before issuing a ticket or summons. In municipalities without a set fine, the enforcement officer must follow a cumbersome procedure for issuing a summons, and then arrange to go to court on the charge, all of which takes many working hours for what is perceived as a relatively minor offence.
  • When an enforcement officer goes to a location identified by a complainant, the idling vehicle or vehicles have often left the scene so direct observation of the idling is not possible and a ticket or summons may not be issued.
  • Drivers in idling vehicles are not required by law to produce identification for by-law enforcement officers and may simply drive away when approached by an officer. Some municipalities have not initiated an agreement with the Ministry of Transportation to provide the name and address of an idling vehicle's owner.

2.4.3 Type of By-law

Previous discussion of idling control by-laws has not tended to distinguish between stand-alone by-laws and anti-idling provisions in noise or nuisance by-laws. It is important, however, to differentiate the two. Anti-idling provisions in noise or nuisance by-laws are designed to respond to concerns about bothersome noise and vibration, not to reduce emissions. For this reason, the provisions and exemptions are different than those of stand-alone by-laws, and may not achieve the emission-reduction goals of the latter. In general, if the municipality desires to reduce emissions from idling, it should develop a by-law geared to that purpose.

Municipalities that have anti-idling provisions in noise or other by-laws, and are also planning to establish a stand-alone by-law because of emissions concerns, should ensure that the requirements of the two by-laws are consistent with one another, particularly with respect to allowable idling time.

If a municipality is concerned about air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from unnecessary vehicle idling, they should consider adopting a stand-alone idling control by-law. Such a by-law makes a clear statement that the municipality considers unnecessary idling to be unacceptable on health and environmental grounds, and provides a penalty for this behaviour.

2.4.4 Penalties

Municipalities planning to adopt an idling control by-law must consider whether to create a set fine for offences, or rely on the summons and administrative court procedures that are used for enforcing many other municipal by-laws. Less than half of municipalities with idling control by-laws currently have set fines although these would make enforcement easier and less time-consuming. Provincial offences legislation usually provides for maximum fines that are larger than set fines, but few judges actually apply the maximum.

Another consideration related to the issue of set fines, is the size of the fine. For existing stand-alone by-laws, set fines vary from $100 to $155. Some municipalities currently planning to adopt new idling control by-laws are considering lower fines to reduce public resistance to the by-law.Footnote 7

2.4.5 Evaluation of By-law Effectiveness

It is important for municipalities to evaluate the effectiveness of their idling control by-law and enforcement activities in achieving the goal of reducing unnecessary vehicle idling and emissions. Evaluation provides the information that would allow municipalities to amend the by-law or adjust enforcement practices to make it more effective. It would also provide valuable information for other municipalities developing specific provisions for a new by-law.

However, relatively few municipalities actively track complaints, or warnings, fines or summonses issued in relation to their idling control by-laws. As a result, it is difficult to get a clear picture of the activities that result from the passage of an idling control by-law, and even more difficult to assess the impact that the by-law has had on community attitudes and behaviours, or the possible reduction in emissions that might result.

There are several methods that a municipality can use to track and measure the effectiveness of their by-law in addressing idling activities as well as reducing idling behaviour. These include:

  • Integration of by-law actions/results into a database;
  • Public opinion polling;
  • Evaluation of idling activities before and after enactment of by-laws, or before and after specific enforcement activities.

2.5 Summary

In recent years, municipalities have passed increasing numbers of idling control by-laws or other by-laws with anti-idling provisions. The stand-alone idling control by-laws have been driven by concerns about air quality, smog and greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the stand-alone by-laws have been modelled on the Toronto by-law passed in 1996.

There are a number of problematic provisions in many of these by-laws that complicate their application and make enforcement difficult. Virtually all municipalities have a complaints-based enforcement process and most take a "soft" approach to enforcement, issuing information and warnings rather than fines or summonses to offending drivers.

Education and enforcement activities are not by-and-large well tracked or evaluated. Consequently, it is difficult to know what impact these by-laws have had on idling behaviours.

This analysis is an important first stage in the work of the Clean Air Partnership – with the cooperation and support of Natural Resources Canada – to develop a model idling control by-law for Canadian municipalities, and to propose an effective strategy for enforcing idling control by-laws.

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