Help Shape Ottawa's Idling Control By-law!

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The City recently announced that it’s reviewing its Idling Control By-law. We’re excited for the opportunity to improve it, so we can reduce our emissions and improve air quality in our communities. Here’s what you need to know. 

What is the Idling Control By-law?

This by-law seeks to limit unnecessary vehicle idling to combat air pollution, reduce carbon emissions, and contribute to a cleaner and healthier environment.
The City implemented its Idling Control Bylaw on September 1, 2007. This by-law seeks to limit unnecessary vehicle idling to combat air pollution, reduce carbon emissions, and contribute to a cleaner and healthier environment. The bylaw currently prohibits drivers from idling their vehicle for more than three minutes in a given 60-minute period when the temperature is between 5°C and 27°C. However, there is no time limit when the temperature is outside of that range, and there are a few exceptions even within the range.

Why have the Idling Control Bylaw?

The bylaw would have several potential benefits if implemented well. First, it would mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and help Ottawa meet its climate targets. Second, it would also reduce air pollution in general, which will improve public health. This is particularly true in places with many people, such as schools or community centres. Additionally, limiting idling reduces fossil fuel use, which translates to cost savings.

What should change?

As for specific recommendations, we suggest the following:

  • Duration: Reducing the permissible idling time from 3 minutes to 1 minute would make the bylaw easier to enforce, as bylaw officers wouldn’t need to wait around as long. To date, enforcement of the bylaw has been notoriously low.
  • Temperature: While the current temperature range aligns with recommendations from Natural Resources Canada, we think City staff should review it to conform with the best public health guidelines.
  • Other exemptions: The current bylaw makes certain exemptions, including for vehicle operation in traffic congestion, mechanical problems, or extreme weather conditions. Emergency vehicles, farm vehicles, public transit vehicles, and specialized equipment are also exempted. (The general provisions are here.) We think staff should review these exemptions, including with City vehicles, for whether all are necessary.
  • School zones: We urge that none of the exemptions apply in school zones, as children’s respiratory systems are especially vulnerable to air pollution, and that signage be placed in school zones to advise drivers accordingly. Indeed, the City should pursue School Streets wherever possible, as this promotes not only respiratory health but also children’s safety.
  • Other high-sensitivity areas: The City should consider other areas with vulnerable people—e.g., seniors’ homes, playgrounds, community centers, high pedestrian traffic areas—and ban idling here too, complete with signage communicating this to drivers.
  • Revenues: we urge that any revenues from enforcement go toward City programs and initiatives that help meet the City’s goal of reducing car dependency, such as School Streets or traffic calming, or the Road Safety Action Plan budget.
  • Response times: The city should review its enforcement protocols for this bylaw, particularly the aspect of response times, as this plays a significant role in its poor enforcement numbers, and the bylaw has been enforced on a complaint basis.
  • Fee: We feel that the current $500 fine is appropriate and would recommend against increasing it, as this may deter Bylaw Officers from applying it.
  • Cost analysis: When the City conducts its analysis of costs, it should include health impacts caused by air pollution.
  • Education: The City should consider an education campaign to raise awareness not only of the bylaws but also that idling increases GHG emissions, air pollution, and poor respiratory health outcomes, and that reducing idling contributes to a more pleasant and liveable city.

What’s next?

City Council has directed staff to review the Idling Control By-law and consult the public in the process. We strongly encourage you to share your thoughts on the by-law through this survey, which is open until March 15, 2024.

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