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Business: Transportation

Idle-Free Zone – Spring 2003 Edition

Idle-Free Zone
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Individual Canadians Take "Idle-Free" Message to the Streets

Some Canadians are simply unwilling to sit idle when it comes to unnecessary vehicle idling – a bad habit that is costing us millions of dollars a year in wasted fuel, producing needless pollution, and contributing to problems like climate change and smog, which affect our health.

What is unnecessary idling?

Allowing your engine to run for over 10 seconds while parked, except in traffic.

Here are just a few stories about individuals who are taking action to reduce unnecessary idling, adding their efforts to those of municipalities, community groups and businesses working to make Canadian communities "Idle-Free Zones."

Remember the rule – no idling at school

Jennifer West has had her fill of idling vehicles.

Each school day, the Ottawa-based management consultant has to breathe in exhaust from a line-up of idling cars in front of her house. The school across the street had become a haven for idling parents, waiting in their vehicles while dropping off or picking up their children.

One day, West noticed an "Idle-Free Zone" sign at the headquarters of Natural Resources Canada on Booth Street, and decided to do what she could to reclaim the air in her quiet Ottawa neighbourhood.

Armed with information about idling she found on the Idle-Free Zone Web site, she approached school director Pat Gere. "The reaction from the school has been very positive," says West. Together, they drafted a letter to all the parents, with compelling reasons to avoid idling, and urging them to "think of your children's health, think of your children's future."

According to Gere, the letter has been well received. "Another parent came in just today, after a parent conference, to tell me that she appreciated the letter. She had previously believed that turning the car off and on used more gas than letting it idle."

Jennifer West knows that more will need to be done to make her street an Idle-Free Zone. Come spring, she hopes to encourage the school to distribute Idle-Free information cards and cling vinyl decals to parents, and seek a commitment to kick the idling habit for good.

College professor launches one-person idling campaign

Peter Buyze.Peter Buyze, an engineer by vocation, understands the technical reasons why vehicle idling makes no sense. With decades of experience in designing and installing energy conservation systems in major hotels around the world, he knows first-hand how energy efficiency is maximized. Idling a vehicle's engine "Is completely inefficient and a waste of money," he says, stressing that "A car's engine is most efficient while being driven on the road."

Buyze now teaches photography at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario. Irritated by idling vehicles both on campus and in the streets of his hometown of Port Dover, he has made it a mission to spread the word about unnecessary idling.

"Whenever I start a new class, the first thing I do after taking attendance is to talk to the students about idling. I hand out idle-free decals and key chains. I figure if each one of them tells five friends or family members about the idling problem, we'll make a difference," he says.

Buyze has also given lectures to community groups in his area, and even approached drivers on the street to share his concerns about idling. "The response has been excellent. People say wow that makes a lot of sense," says Buyze, vowing to continue his one-person outreach campaign.

Idle-Free advocate

Ruth Schembri, a housing support worker in downtown Toronto, is troubled by the impacts of idling in her neighbourhood. "I've seen rows of delivery trucks, people just sitting in their cars, even police cars side-by-side, all with their engines running. It drives me crazy," she says.

Schembri has obtained copies of Idle-Free information cards and cling vinyl windshield decals used to raise awareness about unnecessary vehicle idling in a recent Toronto-area campaign. "I carry them around in my briefcase, so I'm prepared to approach drivers when I'm out and about," she adds.

Links and downloads

  • Add your name to our mailing list. You'll receive future issues of the Idle-Free Zone newsletters and other news and updates.

  • The Idle-Free Zone Web site contains many different tools that individuals can use to take action on idling, including a downloadable PowerPoint presentation, sample letters to newspaper editors, posters, and other materials.

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The Three Idling Myths… and Corresponding Facts



Your engine should be warmed up before driving.

Even in cold weather, the best way to warm up a vehicle's engine is to drive away. With today's modern engines, you need only 30 seconds of warm-up idling, assuming your windows are clear.

Idling is good for your engine.

Excessive idling can actually damage your engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs and exhaust system.

Shutting off and restarting your engine uses more gas than if you let it idle.

Ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting your engine.


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Zone Web Site News

New! More Creative Concepts Added to Web Tool Kit

A series of new creative concepts – particularly well suited for idle-free print advertising, transit shelter and "bus tail" ads – has been developed and tested by Natural Resources Canada.

Links and downloads

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Idle-Free Zone a Big Hit!

It appears that all roads on the information highway lead to the Idle-Free Zone for those seeking the latest idle-free information and tools.

Since it was launched in October 2001, the Zone Web site has had over 11 000 hits from visitors across Canada and beyond.

"We're thrilled with the response so far," says Catherine Ray, senior marketing manager with Natural Resources Canada. She adds, "We're hearing that municipalities and community groups throughout Canada are using the approaches and tools as a starting point for their campaigns. This is exactly what we hoped would happen."

The Web site now features a map of Canada showing communities that are participating in idle-free campaigns. "Looking at the map, you get the sense that a new idle-free movement is taking hold in Canada. Perhaps we're in the early stages of what has happened with issues like smoking," Ray suggests.

Links and downloads

  • Visit the Idle-Free Zone to get information and free, ready-to-use materials to launch your own idle-free campaign.

  • Put your community on the Idle-Free Zone Map of Participating Cities. Future issues of this newsletter will continue to profile the efforts of communities across Canada to become idle-free zones. To share your idle-free story, contact us through the Idle-Free Zone.

Momentum Continues to Build

Local and regional campaigns to reduce unnecessary idling continue to gather steam – and reduce needless emissions – across Canada.

Greater Toronto Area Set to Launch Region-Wide Campaign

In May 2003, municipalities, community groups and businesses in the Greater Toronto Area will join together to launch the GTA Idle-Free campaign. This will mark the most comprehensive public education and outreach initiative on vehicle idling undertaken in Canada to date, empowering over five million residents and the 18 participating GTA municipalities to join the growing national idle-free movement.

The Idle-Free campaign will be a key community engagement tool of the fourth annual Smog Summit, which will take place in June 2003. The Smog Summit is an important annual inter-governmental initiative to address air pollution in the Greater Toronto Area, through collaborative action and citizen involvement.

Plans include a major region-wide communications campaign – including print, radio and transit advertising – to raise awareness of the idling issue in the weeks leading up to the Smog Summit. At the local level, idle-free "blitzes" will be rolled out by trained volunteers, who will approach drivers at idling hotspots around the GTA, and seek commitments to avoid idling in the future.

Links and downloads

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Sierra Club Targets Idling Reduction in Edmonton

The Sierra Club Prairie Chapter believes that through individual actions, Canadians can make a difference. That's the foundation for Sierra's "Reduce Vehicle Idling for Clean Air" campaign, which aims to engage as many people as possible and reduce the frequency of idling throughout the city.

Clean Air postcardThe campaign was launched on October 24th, 2002, with Idle-Free Zone Day at Bishop Greschuk Elementary School in Edmonton, Alberta. The event featured the distribution of Idle-Free decals and Clean Air postcards to all parents dropping off their children at school that day. A poster content also yielded over 100 amazing posters from eager students.

The campaign is now focusing on the broad distribution of the Clean Air postcards throughout Edmonton, using VIPs – Volunteer Idling Patrols – who approach idling drivers to spread the campaign's messages. "The key is to dispel those myths about idling, especially that you don't have to warm up your engine for 30 minutes before driving," says Sonja Mihelcic, campaign director.

Links and downloads

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Community Coalition Drives Idle-Free Success in Waterloo Region

The Citizen's Advisory Committee on Air Quality (CACAQ) is a community coalition in Waterloo Region made up of representatives from about 15 community groups, numerous individual volunteers, and staff from the Region of Waterloo and local municipalities.

The CACAQ is 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 the Waterloo area. The coalition's Idling Reduction Education Campaign is a major region-wide education and awareness initiative, which targets idling reductions in municipal operations, at schools and workplaces, and in the community-at-large.

You hold the key!One of the coalition's most impressive achievements is 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. "There are a few exemptions in the policy, including some for transit and emergency vehicles", says campaign coordinator David Steffler. "But getting the protocol passed by all our councils really kick-started the process, and gave us the confidence to start asking the public to reduce idling too."

The public education campaign is now in full-swing, using a variety of outreach tools – brochures, Idle-Free "contracts", decals, key chains, posters and outdoor metal signs. Future plans include transit shelter advertising, public service announcements and street banners.

Links and downloads

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School Bus Idling Banned in Fredericton

School District 18 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, has adopted a strict no-idling program for school buses. The new program, developed in cooperation with the New Brunswick Lung Association, requires bus drivers to shut their engines off during the loading of students.

The initiative is designed to cut down on diesel emissions in the air around schools, in the buses, and inside the schools through the air exchange systems.

The district is also requesting parents who drive their children to school to shut their vehicles off while dropping off or picking up children on or near school property.

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Campaign Highlights from Mississauga and Greater Sudbury

The cities of Mississauga and Greater Sudbury are now wrapping up a two-year pilot project to test the idle-free information and tools on the Idle-Free Zone Web site.

Both campaigns took a comprehensive, citywide approach for their idle-free campaigns with two main prongs:

  • Public Awareness – Both launched efforts to inform residents about the idling issue, using a mix of advertising, posters, signs, local media, and web communications.

  • Personal "Interventions" at Community Locations – Both campaigns recognized the importance of speaking with people where idling is occurring to help change behaviours. Mississauga focused on transit pick-up locations, schools, and "hotspots" like arenas and community centres, while Greater Sudbury zoned in on schools and commercial parking lots.

Other common elements to the two campaigns included:

  • Local Action Plan – Both cities incorporated the campaigns into their local environmental action plans. In Greater Sudbury, the campaign was a "quick start" for EARTHCARE SUDBURY's new plan for a greener, more sustainable community. In Mississauga, the City's Air Quality Advisory Committee adopted the campaign as a key initiative to improve local air quality.

  • Evaluation – Both cities included a strong evaluation component, with surveys and studies to measure the success of each major campaign initiative as well as the overall campaign.

  • "In House" Initiative – Each city set up a program to reduce idling by municipal employees, whether they are driving vehicles that belong to municipal fleets or their own vehicles.

In addition, Mississauga undertook a private sector initiative, reaching out to many of the city's businesses and industries to encourage them to reduce idling at their facilities, and to enlist these organizations to co-promote the idle-free message to their employees, customers and clients.

Read on to sample highlights from the two citywide idle-free campaigns.

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School Results Most Promising

Of all the locations where personal "interventions" were done, schools clearly rose to the top of the class.

Both cities took a similar approach to their school initiatives with the following common activities:

  • Before the campaign, observations of idling behaviour were made at several schools to see the extent of the problem.

  • Idle-Free Zone signs were posted near student pick-up zones at participating schools.

  • Campaign staff approached drivers with an information card and cling vinyl windshield decal, explaining the idling issue and seeking a commitment to avoid idling in the future.

  • School bus companies and drivers were encouraged to participate.

  • Post-campaign observations were taken at several schools to determine the effectiveness of the campaign.

The school-based campaigns were overwhelmingly successful, both in reducing the amount and length of unnecessary idling. In Mississauga, the campaign decreased the amount of idling by 46 percent, and the length of time spent idling by more than half – a staggering 56 percent. In Greater Sudbury, the campaign resulted in a 34 percent decrease in idling, and a 32 percent decrease in idling duration.

Campaign staff in both cities point to several key success factors for the school initiatives. First, the target audience – parents and caregivers who drive their children to school – remains largely the same each day. As such, it is relatively easy to make personal contact with each driver over a period of several days. Second, this audience is typically very receptive to messages about the health of their children and the environment. Finally, the students themselves help to reinforce the idle-free message with their parents.

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Public Awareness Sky High in Mississauga

Mississauga's campaign reached almost seven in ten city residents, according to a post-campaign survey. A significant 69 percent said they have seen, heard or read about the campaign.

Other post-campaign results from Mississauga:

  • Ninety-five percent believe that idling causes unnecessary air pollution (up five percent from before the campaign).

  • Ninety-three percent agree that "Turning my vehicle off when parked is the right thing to do" (up three percent).

  • Fifty-seven percent have heard of the phrase "Idle-Free Zone" (up twenty-three percent).

Those who were exposed to the campaign:

  • say they idle less – about three to four times less (depending on the location) than those who have not been exposed

  • report idling for a fraction of the time – just over one minute compared to almost four minutes for those who have not been exposed

  • are much more likely to change their idling behaviour – fifty-seven percent say that the campaign will have a strong or moderate impact on whether they will idle in the future

Links and downloads

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Sudbury Curbs Idling at Commercial Parking Lots

In Greater Sudbury, a combination of signs and personal "interventions" were used to reduce idling at commercial parking lots around the city. This combination had a major impact on the amount of idling, but little on the length of timed idled. As part of the initiative, over 900 drivers were approached over a one-week period. The results: a 26 percent decrease in the amount of idling, although little change was recorded in idling duration.

Links and downloads

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Mississauga Transit Adopts New Idling Policy

A very positive outcome of Mississauga's campaign is Mississauga Transit's new vehicle idling policy. The new policy states that all transit vehicles will not idle for more than five minutes. This marks a substantial decrease in idling limits. Under the old policy, transit vehicles were permitted to idle up to 15 minutes.

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Campaign Costs

The costs to a municipality to develop and implement an idle-free campaign typically include staff time and production/placement of campaign materials.

Mississauga's costs included about $25,000 in staff time and $30,000 in production for the year-long campaign, for a total of $55,000. With the city's population of 625 000, campaign costs amounted to about 11 cents per resident.

For its schools initiative, Greater Sudbury estimates that the staff and production costs were about $250 per school.

Links and downloads

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Tips For a Successful Idle-Free Campaign

City of Mississauga campaign staff offer the following lessons learned from developing and implementing their year-long idle-free campaign. These learnings should be useful for communities contemplating their own campaigns:

Lessons Learned


1.Council and senior management support is critical.

The Mississauga campaign team fostered and received strong support from their Council and senior management. The Mayor helped launch the campaign, and formal council endorsement was sought and received. The initiative was first introduced through the air quality advisory committee, which is comprised of department heads and Councillors – ensuring both political and staff support. Similarly, the campaign results were presented to both Committee and Council at the campaign's conclusion.

2.Partnerships are the key to success.

Community partners are needed to effectively implement idle-free campaigns. The City of Mississauga struck partnerships with GO Transit, both school boards, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute and with the University of Toronto at Mississauga – whose students were instrumental in implementing several of the campaign initiatives. Partnerships with boards and associations increase the comfort level and receptiveness of individual member organizations that might consider participating in the campaign. Following communications with these representative organizations, arrangements can then be made with individual managers and staff at each site to install signs and proceed with other campaign activities, such as on-site visits by campaign staff.

3.Address the vehicle idling "myths."

The three idling "myths", that
  • your engine should be warmed up before driving
  • idling is good for your engine
  • shutting off and restarting your engine uses more gas than if you let it idle
are widely held in Mississauga and elsewhere, and need to be addressed front and centre as part of any idle-free campaign.

4.Get your own house in order.

It is much easier and more effective to ask the public to get involved once the municipality has already taken action internally to reduce idling. To demonstrate their own commitment to its idle-free initiative, Mississauga launched a workplace initiative to reduce idling across all municipal operations, including public transit, in parallel with efforts to reduce idling at other community locations.

5.Personal interventions are most effective in the warmer months.

It is important to conduct personal interventions during the summer months (May, June, July, August and September) as much as possible for the following reasons:
  • Studies have shown that weather and outside air temperature have a strong effect on idling behaviour. If weather worsens or temperatures drop over the course of the initiative, or between baseline and follow-up evaluation measurements, idling is likely to increase. If an evaluation component is being included in the campaign, it is important to plan the interventions and evaluations to happen at a time of year when weather conditions are as least likely to change as possible.
  • Drivers are most willing to interact with project ambassadors when it is warm outside.
  • The amount of available daylight is greatest, making it easier and safer to implement interventions through high traffic times such as evening rush hour.

6.When selecting optimal locations for personal interventions, focus on drivers that are:
a) parents;
b) non-transient; and
c) "captive" audiences.

Some locations are better for conducting personal interventions than others in terms of ease of implementation and ability to control variables and measure changes in idling behaviour. In addition to criteria for selecting implementation sites that have been identified in other reports (particularly the "Turn It Off" report), some additional factors to consider that became apparent during the course of this campaign were:
  • The "kind" of drivers that use the site is important. The Schools initiative was the most successful, likely because the drivers there were largely parents and caregivers, as opposed to general drivers, and that group may be more apt to be affected by the health and environmental messages of the campaign.
  • Ideally, the site would be frequented by a non-transient (i.e. regular) population of drivers. In addition to being caregivers, the drivers at schools were the most homogeneous and non-transient, giving the project ambassadors the greatest chance of speaking with every driver using the site.
  • Drivers should be a "captive audience" for a sufficient length of time to allow effective interventions. During the Hotspots Initiative, parents with young children were often so rushed and distracted that the interventions had to be shortened to a degree that likely reduced their effectiveness. The optimal time to approach drivers to discuss idling is at the end of the day, as they are generally less hurried at this time than during the morning rush hour. This is also the time when they are most likely to be idling while waiting in their vehicles, with some drivers arriving 10-15 minutes prior to the arrival of their passengers and leaving their engines running the entire time.
Once a long list of potential implementation sites has been compiled, site visits should be conducted to confirm suitability and determine the exact location at each site where the interventions (and baseline and follow-up evaluations, if any) should be conducted.

7.Gear the campaign to target men in particular.

The overall campaign telephone surveys indicated that the campaign had a greater effect on men than on women, who reported that they idle less and hold more negative attitudes toward idling regardless of whether or not they were exposed to the campaign. Therefore, there is more opportunity to reduce idling by targeting men with behaviour change and awareness building approaches when designing both the interventions and the public awareness and media campaign and when creating key messages and selecting locations and methods of approach.

8.Effective communications materials are a key component of a successful promotional campaign.

Communications materials are a key component of a successful promotional campaign. Some effective strategies in Mississauga's campaign were to:
  • Draw extensively on the images, information and graphic materials available on NRCan's Idle-Free Zone tool kit Web site. The tool kit is a great starting point and the content can be tailored for local use. In many cases it is only necessary to add your logo. The images can also be used to create your own new materials, such as t-shirts, hats, bookmarks, radio advertisements or your own idle-free Web site.
  • The City of Mississauga used strong messaging, images and colours to promote the campaign. The bright red colour made the posters, bus shelter and bus tail advertisements stand out well. Having communications expertise on the project team will make the campaign go more smoothly.
  • A Web site is a great low-cost way to make idle-free information readily accessible and allows regular updates as the campaign progresses. Contact information allows visitors to easily make inquiries, comments or suggestions, and response time and printing costs can be minimized by referring to the Web site. The City of Mississauga used a catchy vanity name (" ") which made promotion of the Web site easier and more effective. The City's corporate Web site also linked to the "123 Turn Your Key" site.
  • If metal street signs are part of the campaign, assume that they will be permanent at the locations where they are first used. Campaign partners initially requested that the signs only be used during the course of the interventions and then decided that they liked the signs so much that they should remain as permanent installations. This means that they should be installed securely and according to the sign policies of the institution or company on whose property the sign is to be placed. Most important is to ensure that the signs are made to be reflective, so that they continue to be visible to drivers even after dark.
  • When printing information cards, take the opportunity to maximize the exchange of information by printing them double-sided, with the facts and myths on the back side, along with contact phone numbers and web addresses, in addition to the main campaign messages on the front.

9.Place metal street signs close to the areas where idling occurs.

Some of the sites that may be selected to receive idle-free personal interventions will be in places where much of the idling occurs in designated pick-up and drop-off zones called "kiss and ride" areas. These areas often function much like drive-thru lanes at fast food restaurants, with drivers dropping off or picking up their passengers and then continuing on. In many cases, these areas are posted with "no stopping" or "no parking" signs. In other cases, much of the idling may occur at the front entrance to a building, sometimes marked as a fire route with signs indicating that vehicles should not be stopped in those areas. As such, the introduction of "no idling" signs may not be possible in these areas – signs will have to be posted elsewhere. It should be recognized that many different locations – walls, fences, existing signposts, etc. – will need to be considered for sign placement. Furthermore, in some cases, idling may be most prevalent in areas adjacent to and outside of facility properties, such as on a nearby street. In these instances, approval from the local municipality will be needed to erect the signs. The key objective is to install the signs as close as possible to the areas where idling is occurring, without contradicting signs already posted, or contravening any municipal by-laws. Good communication is needed with the facility personnel who will be installing the signs to discuss issues relating to sign placement and installation.

10.Seek creative ways to find and manage project staff and volunteers.

The Mississauga campaign used Community-Based Social Marketing approaches from the Idle-Free Zone tool kit, which involved personal interventions by project staff or "ambassadors" to help reduce idling at community locations. One of the ways Mississauga filled its staffing needs was through a unique environmental internship arrangement with the University of Toronto Mississauga.

11.Ensure project ambassadors are knowledgeable about all the campaign initiatives.

When conducting interventions, project ambassadors may encounter questions and comments from drivers about other places where they have observed idling to be a problem, such as at major transit nodes, taxi stands, school buses in front of schools, or drive-thrus. It is useful for project ambassadors to be able to describe the other components of the campaign, assure drivers that many efforts are being made to address idling and air quality issues in general, explain why the current location was selected, and inform drivers that their comments will be recorded and passed on to the appropriate staff.

12.Project ambassadors should offer to place the decal on the windshield on behalf of drivers.

To increase the number of decals (and thus commitments) drivers make, use an approach and script that has project ambassadors offer to place the decal on the windshield on behalf of the driver. Use of the decal more than doubled once that approach was used during the course of this campaign.

13.Project ambassadors should work in male-female pairs as much as possible.

Although project ambassadors can effectively work alone if the implementation site is not too busy, it is more effective for them to work in pairs if the sites are busy, allowing them to approach and speak with a greater number of drivers. In addition, working in pairs increases the ambassadors' safety and comfort, especially when the interventions occur outside after dark. Furthermore, when ambassadors work in male-female teams, it allows women to preferentially approach women, which may help some female drivers feel more comfortable discussing idle-free issues, accepting the information and making a commitment.