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Step 3: Collect Background and Baseline Information

Step 3

What do you know about idling in your community/target location?

Collect background and baseline data early in your campaign planning process in order to: 1) help in your campaign design; and 2) serve as a baseline for comparison when evaluating the success of your campaign.  Information that will be useful to collect includes:

  • Past successes – what has worked before, lessons learned, and general experiences of idling reduction campaigns in your community or neighbouring area;
  • Frequency of idling behaviour (number of vehicles idling in a given time period at your target location);
  • Average duration of idling (average number of minutes a vehicle idles at your target location); and,
  • Your target audiences’ attitudes and opinions regarding idling – for example, how prevalent are the three idling myths in your community? 

Three Idling Myths

Research has shown that the following views are widely held in many Canadian communities:

  1. Myth: Your vehicle’s engine should be warmed up before driving.
    Reality:The best way to warm up your vehicle is to drive it.  In fact, with today’s computer-controlled engines, no more than two to three minutes of idling is enough to warm up your car – even in very cold weather.
  2. Myth: Idling is good for your engine. 
    Reality: Excessive idling can actually damage your engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs and exhaust systems.
  3. Myth: Shutting off and restarting your vehicle uses more gas than if you let it idle.
    Reality: Any more than 10 seconds of idling uses more fuel than is required to restart the engine.

Two key steps to collect this information are:

  1. Take advantage of existing research, knowledge and information about idling reduction
    • Do an internet search – for idling reduction programs that have been done in your community, for idling programs at similar target locations or for similar target audiences.  There may also be idling resource websites organized by your province or territory (e.g.  Idle Free BC)
    • Contact organizations directly – many idling reduction success stories are featured in this guide, with web links where available.  Other organizations can be found through simple internet searches or on the Idle-Free Zone website project search engine.
    • Read past project reports – many of the large idling reduction projects have posted their final reports on-line, describing the activities of their campaign and lessons learned, e.g.:
  2. Conduct primary data collection
    Select the information needs for your campaign and the data collection approaches that best fit your available human and monetary resources.  Keep in mind that partnerships and volunteers can help reduce your costs to collect this data – for example, student volunteers can help collect data at after school pick-up times.

Type of Data Required-Vehicle Idling Frequency and Duration - PDF<Part of Phase 2 >

Type of Data Required: Vehicle Idling Frequency and Duration

Data Collection Method: On-Site Observations and Counts

Data Collection Steps:

  • Obtain approval for data collection from any organization/partner agency at your target location (e.g. school boards, transit authorities).
  • Select a location at your target sites where staff/volunteers can stand discretely to collect data – out of view, but where they can still see vehicles.
  • Select best time of day to collect day – aim for peak idling times at your location.
  • Decide on the number of days of data collection required (typically up to 7 days, dependent on resources).
  • Select calendar dates for collection – ensure pre and post campaign data collection is done in the same season, without drastic weather extremes, for ease of comparison. 
  • Train staff or volunteers to recognize idling vehicles enter information on the data form.
  • Collect data – staff/volunteers record idling vehicles and amount of time spent idling on the data collection form (see Step 3 - Planning Worksheet and Resources)
  • Note down any external factors that may affect normal idling behaviours at your target locations for data analysis purposes – e.g. nearby events, extreme weather conditions, etc.

Type of Data Required- Target Audience’s Perception and Attitudes About Idling [PDF 28 KB] [DOC 35 KB]

Target Audience’s Perception and Attitudes About Idling

Data Collection Method: Telephone Surveys
Random survey with a pre-generated set of questions that can poll perceptions and ideas about idling as well as norms (is turning their engine off the right thing to do).

Data Collection Steps:

  •  Draft desired survey questions.
  • Determine your sample size.  There are several on-line resources to help with this (e.g. Creative Research Systems or conduct an internet search for other on-line tools).  As an example, the CPPI project interviewed 300 people over two days before the campaign and two days after the campaign.
  • Randomly select telephone numbers from your community.
  • Implement the survey – ask to speak to the member of the household who does the most driving.
  • Analyze survey results.

Data Collection Method: Focus Groups
Group conversations about idling.  Can be a good method to gain perspective on proposed idling campaign messages or communication materials.

Data Collection Steps:

  • Draft focus group questions (focus groups work best if you have a set of pre-determined questions to ask participants).
  • Choose an easily accessible location in your community, and time of day that best suits your desired audience (e.g. for working public will need to be in evenings or on weekend).
  • Identify and invite focus group participants (aim for 8 to 10 people so that you will get a sample of 6 to 8 participants).
  • Conduct focus groups – ensure to reward participants for their time with refreshments or a small incentive (e.g. gift certificate or stipend/honorarium).

Data Collection Method: One-on-One Interviews
Short 3-minute polls to receive “in-person” feedback on knowledge about key issues of the campaign, vehicle idling behaviours, or effective communication mechanisms.

Data Collection Steps:

  • Draft interview questions – keep short and concise.
  • Select location for interviews – e.g. high people traffic areas such as shopping centres.
  • Train staff or volunteers to conduct interviews.
  • Conduct interviews and keep track of responses and other useful data.


The following case studies illustrate how baseline data can be collected cost-effectively to inform campaigns, and can help generate ideas as you work through Step 3 (Collect Background and Baseline Information) of your campaign.

Studying Idling in Owen Sound
Data Collection Methods: Idling Frequency and Duration Counts/Observation; CO2 Calculator
Data Collector: Grade 6 Student

A grade 6 student at Derby Public School was looking for inspiration for a science fair project when she noticed how many cars were idling at drive-thrus in her hometown of Owen Sound, Ontario. The student wanted to know how much carbon dioxide (CO2) was coming from the idling vehicles. Using data from the World Resources Institute, the student calculated that 4.7 kilograms (kg) of CO2 was released in just 10 minutes at one drive-thru. Interested in seeing how idling at traffic lights would compare, she calculated that those vehicles released about 0.8 kg of CO2 in the same amount of time. The resulting science project entitled “Idle Thoughts” was presented at her school’s science fair, as well as at the science fair held at Bayshore Community Centre, where it won a silver medal and two awards (the Bruce Power Energy Award and the Inspired By Nature Award). The project also caught the attention of Owen Sound City Council, who invited the student to do a presentation for them. It just goes to show that passion mixed with proven data calculations can go a long way.

Be Idle Free and Ski
Data Collection Methods: Idling Frequency and Duration Counts/Observations; CO2 Calculator
Data Collectors: University Students

My Sustainable Canada and the Ontario Snow Resorts Association (OSRA) spread the idling reduction message to ski resorts across Ontario through the Engine Idling Reduction Program (EIRP). The program offered ski resorts the opportunity to reduce climate-altering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, improve air quality, save fuel and reduce noise by undertaking initiatives to reduce idling among staff and visitors.
Before the launch of the program, baseline data at each of the three pilot resorts (Blue Mountain, Craigleith and Glen Eden) were collected by University of Waterloo students, who observed idling in parking lots and drop-off/pick-up areas. The following data was collected before the launch (January 15-18, 2009) and after the launch (February 19-22, 2009) from a sample of 6,094 personal vehicles over three sites:

  • Average time personal vehicles spent in the idle-free zones;
  • Count of the total number of idling vehicles in each idle-free zone;
  • Total estimated idling time (Total number of vehicles x Average Idling Time);
  • Total CO2 emissions (Total Estimated Idling Time x .0700 kg CO2/minute); and,
  • Amount of GHG emissions per 1000 vehicles (to compare pre and post data).

Key results included: 1) 48% to 64% of personal vehicle drivers parked in drop-off/pick-up zones idled. Where ticket booths were nearby, some drivers were observed purchasing tickets while letting their vehicles idle; 2) 56% to 89% of motor coaches and school buses parked in drop-off/pick-up zones idled. Some motor coaches idled for the entire duration of their stay (an average of 4.5 hours); and 3) 42% to 50% of freight vehicles parked in drop-off/pick-up zones idled.  With these baseline data, a customized action plan for each resort was developed that included idle-free zones at slope-side idling hotspots.
Find out more by visiting My Sustainable Canada

Step 3 Planning Worksheet and Resources

Idling Frequency and Duration Data Collection Form [PDF 69 KB]  [DOC 45 KB]

Step 3 Data Collection Planning Worksheet [PDF 20 KB]  [DOC 29 KB]

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