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Step 4: Reflect on “Carrot” versus “Stick” Approaches

Step 4

Which approach works best to reduce idling – voluntary approaches, by-laws, or a combination of the two?

This is a question that municipalities and community groups across Canada continue to grapple with in designing their idling reduction campaigns.  Like most complex issues, there is no easy answer – it depends on the specific context and needs of each community.

Experience from municipalities across Canada has shown that rather than being mutually exclusive, by-laws and voluntary approaches can be seen as complementary and as a continuum of education and implementation.  For example:

  • Education and outreach campaigns conducted before a by-law can:
    • Build awareness about idling, and in turn community and political support for actions taken on idling; and
    • Act as a catalyst for communities to call for by-law and enforcement.
  • A by-law can support and reinforce an education and outreach campaign by:
    • Highlighting idling as a serious issue; and
    • Sustaining public awareness and behavioural change.
  • A by-law without an education campaign will likely be ineffective because:
    • If residents do not know about the by-law, then they will be unable to comply with it;
    • People are likely to resist a by-law that they do not understand and may feel it is unwarranted; and
    • A by-law on its own does not address the barriers that prevent motorists from idling their vehicles less, whereas an education campaign can seek to break these barriers down.

How can you decide if a by-law approach would be a good fit for your community?

In considering whether a by-law approach is a good fit for your community, the following questions may assist in your decision-making:

  • Is the timing and political climate favourable for introducing an idling control by-law? (e.g. if a related by-law was recently ill-received by the public, the municipality may not want to consider another controversial by-law).
  • Is the perceived urgency of the problem of unnecessary idling high in your community?  (e.g. are there poor air quality alerts, high incidences of children with asthma and other respiratory conditions, etc.).
  • Are the benefits of reducing idling well understood in your community?
  • Is Council supportive of an idling control by-law?
  • Do you have the support and partnership of high profile external organizations?
  • Is the public generally supportive of a by-law control for unnecessary idling in your community?
  • Has a public education campaign been previously undertaken and behaviour change has reached a plateau?

How can you incorporate a by-law into your idling reduction initiatives?

If you have decided that a by-law is the best fit for your community or organization, the following steps can help ensure an effectively integrated campaign:

  • Build the foundation for a by-law – build partnerships, collect background, and design clear and informed communication messages (Steps 1, 2, 3 and 5 of this document);
  • Prepare and launch voluntary idling reduction initiatives – communications, interventions and your own in-house workplace initiatives (Step 6 and Step 7);
  • Conduct best-practice research – on how other municipalities have incorporated by-laws into their idling campaigns.  See Step 4 Resource;
  • Engage the public and stakeholders in an open discussion about developing idling control by-laws – to raise awareness about the impacts of reduced idling and enable by-law proponents to address concerns of residents and stakeholders;
  • Draft the by-law for your community – keep it simple, short, and easy to understand;
  • Train by-law enforcement offers – determine the degree of enforcement you would like to take (low to aggressive) as well as clear procedures on how to follow up with complaints;
  • Implement the by-law in conjunction with a public education campaign – e.g. media advertisements, “by-law blitzes”, training workshops with municipal fleet staff, etc.;
  • Enforce by-law as required – for example, if a less aggressive enforcement approach is chosen, enforcement officers can distribute “mocktickets” or information cards to those that they observe idling.  Experiences from case study municipalities have shown that a by-law is useful as an education tool even when not aggressively enforced; and,
  • Continue education and outreach activities and regularly revisit and revise your combined by-law and voluntary idling reduction approach.

Sample of Idling Control By-Laws from Municipalities Across Canada [PDF 32 KB] [DOC 43 KB]


The following case studies illustrate how two municipalities have answered the question “which works best – by-law approaches, voluntary approaches or a combination of the two?”, and can help as you work through Step 4 (Reflect on “Carrot” Versus “Stick” Approaches) and decide which approach is the best fit for your case/community.

Waterloo Region Idling Control Protocol
Approach: Education Campaign and Idling Control Protocol

The Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Air Quality (CACAQ) is a community coalition based in Waterloo Region, and the driving force behind a series of initiatives to improve air quality and reduce the impact of air pollution on personal health and the environment in Waterloo, Ontario. The coalition’s Idling Reduction Education Campaign targeted idling reductions in municipal operations, at schools and workplaces, and in the community at large. One of the most impressive achievements to come out of the education campaign was the development and widespread adoption of the Waterloo Region Idling Control Protocol. The centrepiece of the protocol is that municipal vehicles must be turned off after 10 seconds of being parked. The protocol has a few exemptions, including transit and emergency vehicles. Through their campaign, CACAQ has illustrated that an effective public education and awareness campaign can lead to by-law adaptation and implementation by a Regional Council.

City of Burlington Idling By-Law
Approach: By-law Combined with Education Campaign and “Mock Tickets”

In May 2005, Burlington City Council implemented a new by-law stipulating that drivers idling their vehicles longer than three minutes are liable to receive a $155 fine. The intention of the by-law is to educate the public about the issue and to deter idling drivers. In advance of the by-law implementation, the City took a unique approach to educating residents about the new policy through the use of “mock tickets”. The mock tickets were distributed by parking enforcement officers to idling motorists to provide them with information about the impending bylaw and the negative impacts of vehicle idling. The tickets were designed to be a friendly way to educate residents. The by-law built on Burlington’s Idle-Free Campaign, which saw the distribution of posters and bookmarks communicating idling reduction messages throughout all city schools, participating bookstores and municipal facilities. The city also posted over thirty “Idle-Free Zone” signs at key municipal sites that were identified as “idling hotspots,” ten signs at Burlington’s GO stations, and over fifty signs at local schools.

More information about idling reduction initiatives in Burlington can be found on the City’s Idling Initiatives website

Step 4 Resources

Two key reports on the Idle-Free Zone website summarize research on voluntary versus by-law approaches to idling reduction across Canada:

Another resource is Idling Control By-Laws Across Canada [XLS 139 KB] , a detailed table summarizing information from a 2009 study on idling control by-laws in over 65 municipalities across Canada.

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