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Business: Transportation

The Anti-Idling Project of the Ecology Action Centre FINAL REPORT

Prepared by Michael Leitold, August 12, 2002
at the Ecology Action Centre, for the period of
May 15-August 6, 2002

With the support of Environment Canada's Environmental Damages Fund

Ecology Action Center.  Canada.

Executive Summary:

The Anti-Idling Project represents an initial step towards reducing fleet idling in the Halifax Regional Municipality, and around the province. Within the scope of this project, fleet managers and drivers were educated on the negative impacts of vehicle idling, and the best practices and solutions appropriate for tackling idling as an undesirable habit were implemented. This process has been undertaken with the voluntary co-operation of various fleets, managers, and drivers, from four major fleets with operations in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM).

This has meant numerous dealings with multiple administrative layers from Emergency Medical Care, Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Public Works, HRM Combined Fleet Services, and HRM Metro Transit. These fleets represent a combined vehicle fleet of approximately 1800 vehicles. In addition to work with fleets, information on idling has been circulated in targeted community and business forums, through various media and outreach mechanisms.

Within the best practices framework, much work has been accomplished, and much still remains to be done. Various factors impeded progress at times, while unforeseen circumstances, commitments and ideas led to rapid development in others. While non-linear and erratic development is true for almost any project, the participation and interest of a variety of uniquely structured vehicle fleets poses a challenge. In the successes that have been achieved, much has been learned for future applications of this particular anti-idling strategy.

It must be noted that actual time interacting with drivers has been limited, as much of the project has been spent convincing upper management of the validity, feasibility, and desirability of driver education about vehicle idling. However, the limitations on driver interactions in the short term are outweighed by movements and shifts towards institutional adaptation in the long term, as the fleets involved have committed to making idling reduction a central part of their fall and winter training sessions. As "training the trainers" and providing fleet managers with materials and information has replaced the original scope of the project, a more pragmatic assessment of the relative success of a limited timeframe project can be made.

Introduction to the Fleet Organizations

1) Emergency Health Services- Emergency Medical Care:

Emergency Medical Care is a private sector firm responsible for the management of the Emergency Health Services ground ambulance service in Nova Scotia. EHS uses a total of 140 vehicles to deliver service to Nova Scotians. Of these 140 vehicles, 129 are used for the direct delivery of patient care and patient transport; three are used for supervision, one for Materials Management and the remaining seven for administration/contract oversight.

Emergency Medical Care currently has a "dollars-per-kilometre" crude assessment of fuel efficiency of $0.15 per km, as it spends approximately $1.4 million to travel 9 million km per year. A randomly performed study on patterns in the hours of service delivery of six ambulances indicated that idling rates currently stand at 49% of run time during January 2002, and only 33% during May 2002.

EMC has a strong system in place to monitor idling, though idling at the scene of an accident is actually protocol, making it difficult to assume a non-essential idling incidence rate. However, the onboard engine computers allow the organization to monitor idling time, and flag excessive idling as being unacceptable above a certain predetermined limit, currently set at two hours.

2) Halifax Regional Municipality Metro Transit:

Metro Transit is celebrated in texts circulated by the Fleet Smart Program of the Department of Natural Resources for its commitment to an anti-idling policy that emphasizes a 3-5 minute idling maximum. Despite this laudable effort, numerous people have filed anecdotal evidence about excessive engine idling on the part of Transit drivers, particularly in the hot summer months when idling is superfluous. The Transit fleet is particularly important owing to its large size and continuous operations, and its role as a sustainable transportation option.

Metro Transit spends approximately $3-4 million dollars per year on fuel, mostly diesel; this is at a discounted rate of purchase, and represents approximately half the current cost of fuel. The vehicle fleet is comprised of approximately 148 buses, ranging in age from brand new to 30 years old.

Our participation with Metro Transit has been limited, as they only came on board in the last quarter of the project.

3) Halifax Regional Municipality Shared Fleet Services:

The Shared Fleet Services division of the Halifax Regional Municipality provides fleet service and vehicle provision for the various HRM Departments, in particular the Transportation and Public Works Department. They are responsible for everything from park maintenance to snow removal.

The fleet consists of approximately 200 vehicles, ranging in size from light trucks to dump trucks and loaders. HRM Fleet Services uses approximately 1.5 million L of diesel fuel, and 2 million L of gasoline, at a total cost of approximately $1.5 million per year. (Note: owing to structural budgetary oversights and confusion in billing and budgetary practices arising from the 1996 amalgamation, current patterns of fuel consumption are poorly tracked, see Appendix A).

Existing idling patterns are abysmal, though only qualitatively tracked: one anecdote tells of a vehicle idling while parked for 12 consecutive hours, eventually running out of gas in the parking lot. Idling patterns are described by interviewees as follows- one hour idling in the morning prior to instructions; half an hour on break, an hour for lunch, and numerous times during the workday while waiting for material or instructions. Estimates are at 40% idling as a percentage of run time from fleet instructors, and managerial estimates are even higher. Visual confirmation of these patterns is common, and confirmed by onsite sample checks.

4) Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Public Works:

This Provincial Department responsible for everything from road construction and bridge building, to the Sydney Tar Ponds clean up, has a fleet of approximately 1300 vehicles around the province, most concentrated at fleet bases in Metro and other regional hubs. The operational budget of the organization has no breakdown of costs associated with fuel consumption, but unofficial estimates place the expenditure at between $8-10 million per year, on untaxed diesel and gasoline.

Idling is seen as a major problem. Most regional fleet supervisors of a focus group of 8 agreed that an idling occurrence in the range of 30% of vehicle run time was presumably accurate, and were unanimous in their willingness to tackle it as an issue. However, this varies, as computer spot checks on a truck from Dec-July, over a 6-month period, found the truck was getting 4.25 mpg (17000/4000), with 11% of its total hours of service spent idling. Tales of excessive idling abound, with drivers leaving vehicles on for acclimatization purposes, with little or no regard for fuel efficiency.

No hard data on fuel consumption and fuel economy is available at this time for NS DTPW, owing to bureaucratic hurdles and insufficient publicly accessible budgetary detail.

Strategy Employed:

While the initial statement of intent described this project as being concerned primarily with direct driver-facilitator workshop interactions, it became clear that the reticence of some managers to offer workshop time, coupled with the slow pace of bureaucratic decision making, would relegate this original goal to a less prominent position. Strategy then shifted to direct interactions with upper-level management in an attempt to convince them of the necessity and feasibility of reducing idling through a program of education and reinforcing incentives.

This was accomplished by using the "Best Practices" model, familiar to many managers from other initiatives, using a framework established by the "Repair Our Air" fleet challenge. This framework is composed of the following steps:

  1. Building a Business Case
  2. Finding a Champion
  3. Building a Team
  4. Building a Work Plan
  5. Finding Results Measurement Strategy
  6. Establishing a Communications Strategy

By referencing the successful model seen to work effectively in the Toronto "Repair Our Air" campaign context, this six-step program for implementing anti-idling best practices is now being utilized by three vehicle fleets in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Aggregate computer generated and tracked data on fuel consumption, expenditures, and idling was used in place, by and large, of visually recorded data. This has been successful in identifying significant waste patterns in fuel use (see Appendix A). Additionally, practical and logistical considerations related to the geographic disbursement of idling fleet vehicles around the city/province, reduced the role of observational surveys as the foundational data to track baseline idling. However, confirmation of the problem was achieved qualitatively through random checks with supervisors on fleet idling in fleet parking and repair bases, particularly at the Department of Transportation and Public Works' locations.

Tactics Employed

  • Targeted Presentations:

Initial advances were made through initial phone and email interviews with numerous fleet managers and administrators throughout the Halifax Regional Municipality (see Appendix B for complete list).

Following confirmation of interest, presentations were undertaken with selected administrators and managers to address concerns about applicability, feasibility and possible outcomes.

Subsequent to this level of interest, presentations were made to other levels of administration, including the entire Fleet Services section of NS Department of Transportation and Public Works, the Halifax Regional Municipality Fleet Services Department, Metro Transit, and Emergency Medical Care.

  • Policy Shifts:

In tandem with the tactic described above, meetings and presentations provided a perfect opportunity for lobbying for and encouraging policy shifts that would reduce idling as a common activity. In many cases, these discussions included employees and fleet managers, as well as drivers and mechanics in some cases. The discussion centred on voluntary mechanisms to reduce idling, and the potential barriers to compliance and how they could be avoided. These discussions have proven to be exceptionally fruitful, as they have sparked interest and commitment to voluntarily reduce idling that is contextually well suited.

As a result, policy shifts that occur have arisen from discussion and reflection on the part of the organization. The negative side of this otherwise positive development is that voluntary measures are not always sufficient to achieve the results intended; some supervisors are of the opinion that anything involuntary would result in a backlash, and these views tend to hold sway.

  • Training and Education Shifts:

The corollary shift to that of policy is that of education and training, so as to increase the likelihood of compliance in reducing idling through awareness and understanding. While some presentations to drivers themselves did occur, to approximately 30 drivers in three fleets all told, a more significant change will be felt when the training and education shifts in emphasis towards reducing idling takes effect.

The anti-idling project co-ordinator synthesized a module incorporating fleet-specific information on idling in a PowerPoint format, coupled with printed information designed by the Office of Energy Efficiency. By expressing a commitment to incorporating this information in the training of new drivers, and in safety education sessions and seminars for older drivers, the fleets involved seem to be undertaking the challenge of shifting idling behaviours.

  • Community Outreach:

While the bulk of the effort of this project consisted of addressing the particular problems associated with vehicle fleets, information was also disseminated through other means, in order to reach the broader public. These dissemination tactics consisted of two basic varieties: mass outreach, and targeted, or direct, outreach.

Mass outreach tactics used include: a television interview, articles in circulation newsletters, and an informative web site and links.

Targeted, or direct, outreach tactics used include: circulation of materials to driver education schools, handouts at vehicle emissions clinic, active intervention by giving anti-idling leaflets to drivers who are idling, and dissemination to other areas of the province through local community organizations.

Measures and Actions Undertaken

Part A: Fleet Work

1) Emergency Health Services- Emergency Medical Care:

The private sector managerial practices of the EMC team at once present opportunity and unique obstacles for the Anti-Idling Project. While support has been evident from all levels of fleet management, including fleet managers and directors, the Chief Executive Officers have yet to approve the measures we have planned for September/October. As things stand, the last hurdle, a stamp of approval from the upper management and CEOs of EMC, should be crossed soon after the end of this contract, allowing for a comprehensive Best Practices and Communications Strategy to be implemented.
This should include:

  1. distribution of educational materials (250 leaflets, 75 posters, 50 brochures, 60 stickers)

  2. use of tailored PowerPoint presentation at selected training sessions and skill-building seminars

  3. monitoring of fuel consumption pre-and post-educational initiatives

  4. monitoring of idle time as a variable through on-board computing, in order to identify chronic unnecessary idling and address it through communication

2) Halifax Regional Municipality Metro Transit:

Metro Transit represents a latecomer to the Anti-Idling Project, but one that is welcomed, for a number of reasons. Metro Transit has a policy in effect already on idling, which recommends a 3-5 minute idle limit. The inability to register compliance to this policy lead key managers to agree that education and informative training is required to adequately prepare drivers in the training stage to better understand the costs of idling.
To that end the following steps are being taken:

  1. distribution of 250 leaflets, one to each Metro Transit driver, additional ad hoc lunchtime presentation reached 10-15 drivers

  2. preparation of PowerPoint presentation to be used in training sessions of future drivers (pending approval)

  3. 20 posters placed around the Burnside Industrial Park Transit site

3) Halifax Regional Municipality Shared Fleet Services:

The Shared Fleet Services have been exceptionally co-operative, despite organizational problems and lack of oversight mechanisms that currently plague effective management. A genuine willingness to tackle issues of fuel efficiency and waste is evident. All levels of management are supportive of this initiative, and have openly endorsed using the Anti-Idling materials in the driver-training classroom.
Other initiatives in this vein included:

  1. distribution of 500 leaflets, 100 vehicle stickers

  2. delivery of tailored PowerPoint presentation for driver training

  3. active intervention by staff to stop idling at base locations (empowering those affected by idling to act to stop it- e.g. secretary X frequently complains of air quality problems from idling outside air ducts, now has "Turn it Off" material and managerial support for active intervention)

4) Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Public Works:

The NS DTPW has proven to be an effective ally in the fight against idling, and is committed in practice to a fall/winter campaign of education and anti-idling initiatives. We have built the groundwork for this campaign together, in concert with the Fleet Smart program, with DTPW deliberately emphasizing the anti-idling message. Discussion with a focus group of regional fleet supervisors was particularly helpful, as they identified tactics they perceive as being effective. In short, DTPW is well on its way to a best practices approach, with the support and encouragement of key members of the management team who have directly intervened to get the message out on a number of occasions.
Actual outputs in terms of policy and education shifts included:

  1. 100 posters, 500 leaflets, 100 stickers, 100 brochures distributed to the central and regional vehicle depots and offices

  2. reduced (aiming for zero) tolerance for idling with zero occupancy on the part of supervisors and management

  3. planned reduction of recommended maximum idle time from 15 minutes to 6-7 minutes in policy handbook

  4. auto-shutdown function on vehicles set for 6-7 minutes of idle time

  5. possible inclusion of tailored PowerPoint slideshow in driver safety training

Part B: Community Outreach

Community outreach forms took two basic forms: mass outreach and targeted, or direct, outreach.

1) Mass Outreach:

This was successful in getting the message out in a variety of forums and community media, through the following activities:

  1. A website has been launched, as part of the TRAX site, containing information and useful links for those looking for more in-depth analysis or just a quick introduction to the issues. It can be found at

  2. A variety of local business and employment newsletters were used to get the anti-idling message out to wide and diverse audiences, through short and informative 500 word articles. For example, the Spring Garden and Area Business Association and the Downtown Halifax Business Association encouraged their members to reduce idling by suppliers and employees. The following chart describes participating newsletters and media:

  3. A television interview on anti-idling was aired during Clean Air Week, on ATV's Live At Five, on 05/17/02

2) Targeted or Direct Outreach:

This tactical approach was effective at providing information and materials to groups and individuals interested in anti-idling, or implicated in the process, through the following activities:

  1. Information packages consisting of 60 units of outreach material, 10 stickers, and three posters were distributed to four local driving schools. This met with lots of positive response, with many instructors committing to including the anti-idling message in their curriculum.

  2. Information (a fact sheet) on idling was distributed to the approximately 340 drivers who participated in the Vehicle Emissions Testing Clinic in the Halifax Regional Municipality, on May 22-23, 2002.

  3. Informational leaflets are being distributed to drivers who are idling their cars while parked. This is done in a non-confrontational, polite and respectful manner, in an attempt to highlight the savings that could be incurred, to the individual, from increased fuel efficiency. Two hundred and fifty leaflets have been earmarked for this portion of the campaign.

  4. In order to facilitate project growth and wider outreach, mailing packages containing approximately 100-120 units of stickers, leaflets, posters and brochures were disbursed to the Bluenose Atlantic Coastal Action Program, serving the LaHave River region, and the Atlantic Coastal Action Project: Cape Breton, located in Sydney.

  5. Finally, the provincial Department of Environment and Labour (DEL) has agreed to inform its workforce using our materials on the negative effects of vehicle idling. While the DEL does not possess a vehicle fleet as such, this outreach to those already aware of the importance of environmental stewardship should serve as a reminder for those already in the know. If necessary or desired, workshops may be made available over lunch hour in the future.

Project Assessment

Progress Made:

Many fleet managers and drivers have been exposed to the ideas and messages of the anti-idling project, including 20-30 drivers and 15-20 managers who received impromptu or scheduled presentations. Approximately 20 000 copies of articles and advertisements have been or will be in circulation by the fall, creating a buzz about the project in local periodicals. By making managers and drivers aware of current patterns of fiscal waste that originates from idling, and the possible commensurate gains from waste reduction, the education and policy shifts encouraged (and described above) should have a major impact on the idling habits of a significant portion of the fleets' workforce.

The groundwork laid in this project allows for much additional work to be done. While consciousness raising and commitments are part of the process, the pace of change will pick up as the implementation of educational communication tactics takes effect. Moving beyond policy to practice is a slow but rewarding shift, as drivers change patterns of behaviour. Registering this movement is one of the hardest parts of measuring progress, but from the anecdotal evidence of fleet managers pleased with qualitatively reduced idling already, it seems as though some drivers are catching on.
Projected Greenhouse Gas Emission (GHG) Reductions:

In this section we will use aggregate estimates of fuel consumption in order to estimate the level of greenhouse gas emission reduction that is projected to occur as a result of the measures taken by the various fleets. As fleet specific estimates on idling reductions are forthcoming (given that many measures have yet to be implemented at the time of writing), we will use the base estimate of a 10% reduction in fuel consumption. This is the lowest value estimated to have occurred by fleets participating in the "Repair Our Air" fleet challenge in Toronto.

Some fleets, particularly the NS DTPW, do not track fuel consumption specifically in available documentation, and pay for fuel as one would pay for power or any other flow-based commodity, making it difficult to estimate stocks used. As a result, rather than using the crude estimate of per vehicle emissions (with a disparate fleet of 1300 vehicles, this would be very awkward at best), the NS DPTW figures are omitted from the calculations.

From our calculations for the three fleets with fuel consumption data, given that the average amount of CO2 produced by a litre of gasoline is approximately 2.4 kilograms, and assuming a 10% diversion rate from anti idling initiatives, approximately 2 725 077 kg of CO2 emissions are projected to be eliminated (See Appendix A).

A Critical Eye/Recommendations

Clearly, the reduced role of driver-facilitator interactions must be acknowledged as disappointing. The slow pace of response and acceptance over the course of the project, coupled with an initial reluctance to set aside work time for presentations, led to this being the case. However, the other factor involved in this outcome has been the lack of prior groundwork and organizational networking prior to this project's start date. A direct result of this was the need to expand the fleet manager introduction and interview process to be wider in scope, as each organization needed presentations and introductions on many levels prior to committing to be part of the program.

Additionally, the fact that many private-sector fleets were not interested in the Anti-Idling Project as it stands implies that other tactics and strategies might need to be developed within the context of the current campaign in order to reach idling drivers.

One suggestion for the future would be setting concrete goals like a fleet challenge. This is where numerous vehicle fleets attempt to reduce idling independently in order to be recognized as most fuel-efficient by reducing idling the most in a contest-like atmosphere. This could allow organizations to create situations perceived as "win-win-win", where management has gained from reduced fuel outlays, environmental advocacy has succeeded in reducing emissions, and workers have received rewards and incentives for compliance.

In the words of one fleet manager: "I've fought this system for years, and we accomplish more with honey and vinegar" (emphasis added). Hence, the creation of an incentive-based initiative, coupled with the educational and policy shift approach, would provide just that mix of positive and negative incentives for compliance.

With the above points in mind, the following recommendations flow from the experience of this project.

  1. Create a "fleet challenge" competition to reduce idling emissions in a competitive arena that suits both private and public sectors- contain within it the seeds of an incentive-based approach

  2. Continue to use education to discourage vehicle idling from a variety of perspectives, emphasizing confluence of economics, health and environment

  3. More preliminary contact with fleets for future initiatives, building lasting partnerships and relationships based on trust

  4. Continue to contact, encourage, and work with the fleets currently involved, as change in the idling field requires time and patience

  5. Push for better monitoring and management of fuel expenditures by fleets, as better knowledge allows for building of a compelling business case for reducing idling

Looking Forward

The work accomplished through this project should serve future efforts well, both in acting as a logistical underpinning for future work with the fleets in question, and also as an assessment of the pace at which the uptake of new materials and educational materials can be expected to proceed. It must be stressed that future efforts should concentrate on forging and maintaining constructive relationships with upper management of vehicle fleets, while building a rapport with the labour force that will increase compliance with fleet initiatives. This rapport will grow more quickly if workers and drivers feel that the anti-idling program will benefit them as well as their employer and the environment.

Positive reinforcing mechanisms that provide incentives to comply with anti-idling programs, as well as providing education on the negative effects of the idling habit, should form part of the overall strategy of reducing idling. This should be taken into account within the often deeply entrenched work cultures of government departments, as well as private-sector firms.

In summary, success in reducing idling can only come though long term shifts in practice, through education and action. Educational materials and presentations form an essential part of the process of progressive change in fleet behaviour; however, involving and motivating the frontline driver to change her habits requires an appeal to enlightened self-interest through incentives to spur change.