Drive Thrus & Idling

May 6, 2008

Healthy Environment

Last night at Council’s regular Planning meeting, we had a discussion around the whole issue of drive thrus.  Council referred the matter to staff to consider whether we should be approving drive thrus given our urban design and community energy planning polices.

I have received a fair bit of correspondence over the years from residents concerned about drive thrus.  They have trouble understanding why they are allowed when climate change and air quality are such significant environmental concerns. 

The broader issue of concern is idling vehicles.  Many cities have launched community-wide anti-idling campaigns to improve local air quality and reduce green house gas emissions.  Municipalities have also launched anti-idling campaigns internally and saved significantly on fuel use by city vehicles. 

Locally, Guelph Transit has developed an idling reduction policy which encourages drivers to shut their bus engines off after only 3 minutes of stop tiem.  City Fleet Services is developing a comprehensive fleet idling plan.

We can do more and I would be interested in your thoughts on this issue.

“Idling Gets You Nowhere”



About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

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22 Comments on “Drive Thrus & Idling”

  1. Alexandra Barlow Says:

    I think that drive-thrus are of little real use – they encourage car idling and a sedentary lifestyle – I don’t think it would hurt Guelph at all if individuals had to get out of their cars to get their coffee and it certainly would not hurt the environment.

  2. Sarah Galliher Says:

    I love this notion that we could minimize this negative activity! Drive thrus have caused air pollution, dangerous parking lots and even traffic issues in areas. They are an eye sore and go against the ultimate goal of the city in being an environmental leader – to get people walking we first need to get them out of their cars.

    Good Luck!

  3. Chaz Amy Says:

    I would have to agree that the end of drive thru’s would certainly not be any loss to our society, and idling in general is just plain wrong. But just to be devils advocate for a moment….
    I’ve always wondered why we don’t just locate these on hilly locations. This occurred to me years ago while stuck at a border crossing, if I was on a hill, I could simply shut er off and coast down in neutral. Perhaps we could confine or at least prioritize new permits to this type of application.

  4. Matt Shacklady Says:

    While I totally, 110% agree that there really isn’t a _need_ for drive thrus and that everyone would be marginally healthier if they had to go in to a restaurant to get their drink/food (maybe by cutting back on the amount of junk food eaten if people don’t have such ready access to it), on the other hand there are probably people who think it’s a great idea – to come to some middle ground maybe the following could be put in place:

    1. Drive thrus are properly designed – with sufficient space to fit all the cars waiting safely. If the lot of land does not support that space then they should not be a llowed a drive thrus
    2. Limiting the menu at the drive thru – the idea is that people should not need to stop, get out of their car for a coffee – that’s fine. But when they want 2 double iced lattes with sprinkles on top, 4 bagels toasted with cream cheese and a bag of doughnuts it starts to hold up the line and increases idling – if people are kept moving through the line idling will be minimized

  5. Kyle Mackie Says:

    “Locally, Guelph Transit has developed an idling reduction policy which encourages drivers to shut their bus engines off after only 3 minutes…”

    Instead of encouraging, why not demand it?

  6. Sarah Galliher Says:

    re: limiting orders at drive thrus
    I think this is brilliant, I can’t imagine why people are allowed to sit at the window waiting for their bagel to be toasted.
    Coffee, Tea or other prepared beverages only!
    and a limit on the number of items might be good as well. if you are grabbing coffee for your whole office, do everyone a favour and park your car and walk in.

  7. Evan Ferrari Says:

    I’m encouraged that the mayor sees this as an important issue.

    It’s time that we ban any new drive thrus and develop a plan to phase out existing ones.

    Some fast food companies have moved completely towards eliminating any seating capacity in favour of drive thru only service.

    These companies are clearly cutting their costs while making the taxpayer pay the price. By moving to Drive thrus they can have smaller buildings and fewer employees saving considerable expense. At the same time, the public is expected to bare the brunt of having poorer air quality, poorer health and then paying for our health care system to fix the problem in the future.

  8. cdlu Says:

    If we have a strictly enforced no-idling by-law, it would address the core environmental issue of engines running while sitting in drive-thrus. It would not be popular with patrons to get ticketed for idling while waiting in the drive-thru, which is fine, but it also means that hybrids, electric cars when we get them, and so forth would not be penalised for using these services, which many people believe to be a critical convenience. I am not a user of food drive-thrus, but I do occasionally (every few months) make use of the drive-thru ATM down the street (where lineups are exceedingly rare), and cannot address the frustration some people have with orders simply because I have never experienced it.

    I should note though that the only real difference between the pollution and emissions from a car idling in a drive-thru and one passing it on the road is the optics of it. On the whole, the one driving is the problem. Solve that and the one getting coffee resolves itself.

  9. Chandan Says:

    I think drive throughts are required. Design them correctly. I do not want to come out of my car to go to ATM or to get coffee when it is -40 outside. What if i have a baby in the car…
    They are absolutely required. Maybe they should be designed to slope downwards in the drive thru so that once can shut off the engine and brake and use momentum and then start engine once you have paid and got your stuff but they are absolutely requirted

  10. Sara Says:

    I think the solution to the idle has to put the ownness on the individual. Citizen’s organizations, through partnerships with government and industry, can lead the movement towards better behaviors. Behaviors that consider the future needs of humanity. Education and action must be hand in hand. Something as simple as an ‘I don’t Idle’ bumper sticker could do wonders for our city…

  11. Mike Marcolongo Says:

    “Locally, Guelph Transit has developed an idling reduction policy which encourages drivers to shut their bus engines off after only 3 minutes…”

    I agree with Kyle – I’m unclear why Guelph Transit only “encourages” its drivers to turn off the diesel-spewing engines. Until the City of Guelph shows leadership on the transit idling issue, I would not even examine the issue of banning drive-thrus…

  12. Ric Jordan Says:

    Stopped at a dispenser of the black gold the other day and counted 14 cars in queue for the drive-thru. Parked, went in, got my coffee and as I was leaving noticed that the same car was at the pick-up window. So much for drive-thrus saving time.

  13. M Says:

    As a daily rider on a number of Guelph Transit routes, I can assure you that all, 100%, of the drivers I have encountered practice the idling reduction policy.

  14. Don Says:

    A couple of thoughts. Although I rarely use drive thrus (I find it much quicker to go inside as Ric Jordan found out). But….

    I like the idea of limiting the number of items that can be ordered in a drive thru. Keeping things moving will reduce idle time. Less time spent in the drive thru means getting on your way quicker, and the vehicle gets turned off all that much sooner. It may only be a matter of a few minutes, but every bit helps.

    Also, regarding transit idling, if they already practice the idling reduction policy, making it a law would only solidify what they’re doing now. Plus it wouild be a lot easier to sell the idea of a ban on drive thrus to the businesses since the City really has taken leadership on the issue.

  15. Mike Wisniewski Says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen. I am shocked and upset that I am the ONLY commenter here who recognizes that the government should not have the right to tell a property owner how to design the layout of their property. The city does not own any of the coffee shops and therefore has NO right to tell them how to run their business and which services to offer their customers, including drive-thru service.

  16. Linda Says:

    About 16 years ago, my ex and his business partner were trying to market an automobile anti-theft device to the local police service. The device worked in such a way that an unattended idling vehicle (such as fire, ambulance, police and taxis often are) could not be put in gear without first deactivating the device. They were told they had no market in Guelph as the anti-idling bylaw prohibited its use for personal vehicles and the Guelph Police Service could not be seen as promoting something that would encourage bylaw circumvention. If this was the law then, what has changed?

    Hire another enforcer and post them at Tim’s. They’ll pay for themselves in the first week!

    I use Drive Thru’s. I’m not proud that I idle or that I’m lazy. So what would get me out of my car? Put the “coffee only” line INSIDE the store so I could get in and out without getting stuck behind that one Union Gas / Hydro / (insert whatever company here) guy who orders 15 BLT’s for the crew he’s left out idling in the van…

  17. Sarah Galliher Says:

    i disagree, the way people use their properties has a major impact on all of the properties and land uses around them. drive thrus are notorious for causing congestion on busy streets and near intersections and create particularly hazardous conditions for pedestrians in parking lots. if there were no opportunity for monitoring and regulating the layout of our cities, they would be jumbled disastrous messes that lack functionality and safety.

  18. Brian Holstein Says:

    The notion that property rights are entrenched in Canadian law is a myth that has floated with other jetsam for many years. Indeed, it was touted as fact by a former councillor for many years.

    Whether or not we SHOULD have property rights that allow us to do whatever on our properties (and to hell with the effects), the point is, we do not.

    We cannot build what we want unless the land is zoned appropriately. We may apply to change the zoning, but we cannot ignore the zoning.

    And thank God for that! would we want anyone and everyone to start an engine repair business in their driveways? Why not use a backyard to collect cars for harvesting of parts? Of course we do not!

    Nor do we want the concentration of car fumes when we walk by a drive-through. Nor do I want that acridi fumes when I decide to get out of my car and get a little exercise by actually walking into the doughnut store, standing and yes, waiting for a few minutes in line. Life is not so short that I cannot wait and waste a few minutes here and there.

    Rather than bowing to the mythical lores of absolute property rights, the City should be passing a by-law that closes drive-throughs on proclaimed and forecasted Smog Days. The onus will be on the City, as the drive-through companies have given me a plethora of pettiness in their reasons for not doing this voluntarily.

  19. Mike Wisniewski Says:

    Fair enough,Sarah. (These are the types of debates I enjoy, so buckle up)

    You are referring to what the late world-renowned economist Milton Friedman dubbed an “externality”

    An “externality” is the effect a transaction between two consenting parties has on an unconsenting third party.

    Your example being traffic congestion, Timmy’s and their customers are the two consenting parties and those unfortunate motorists who have to navigate the resulting congestion would be the “external” third party.

    You are very right to be concerned and your point has not fallen on deaf ears. I would just prefer that these “externalities” be dealt with civilly as opposed to pre-emptively through bylaws. regulation, and government enforcement.

    Put the power back in the people, instead of the government. A favourite line from my all-time favourite movie: “People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people”

  20. Greg Says:

    I can’t believe the city is even thinking of trying to tell TAX PAYING BUSINESSES how to build and run their franchises.

    How about starting with things the city actually owns and controls? Say, making ALL stoplights traffic activated. Do you have any idea how many times I stop at a red light for absolutely no reason? No cars coming either way, and none having gone by, but there I sit.

    Or what about turning all lights along major 50 km and 60 km thoroughfares (i.e. Speedvale, Eramosa, Victoria) to flashing cautions during evening and night hours — say 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Why should I have to stop northbound on Victoria and College at 2 a.m.? The lights could flash caution for Victoria cars and flash red for those on College.

    These changes would a) prevent idling and b) improve my gas mileage and consumption while at the same time reducing my carbon footprint.

    How about the city stop light pollution while its at it. Is there really a need for light on streetlights to be shone upward? Every light standard should come with a “shade” forcing the light downward, and not letting any escape upward into the night — why are you illuminating the sky? I don’t drive or walk there. You’d need less wattage and thus save money and reduce energy costs.

    I’m sick of this city trying to come up with solutions for everyone else but itself. Fix the things you can control first.

  21. James Harvey Says:

    you’re going to think I’m wierd…but why not put in a device like they have at carwashes that move’s your car through automatically once you enter the drive thru. That way you can shut off your car and put it in neutral and the line could still move even if it’s not on a slope. alternately this could have other benefits, like avoiding that a-hole that feels it’s ok to come right up on your butt while you’re in the drive thru. Eliminating them would be best but we’re in a society that values time and the almighty dollar over anything else..stop and smell the roses people.

  22. Cayla Says:

    Re: Transit encouraged to shut-down after three minute stop.

    Does not a diesel engine use far more fuel in starting then in idling? If the buses are shutting off at every stop that is over three minutes could they not be creating more emissions in total over time, especially in cold weather? The encouraged no idling of public transit seems to be a loss cause when the buses are going to be pollution producers either way, would not a better solution be to get better buses?

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