Five years after Thunder Bay introduced new idling regulations, one advocate says not much has changed

A physician in Thunder Bay, Ont. is calling on residents to better follow the city’s anti-idling section of the noise bylaw.

Dr. Nicki Wilberforce put forward a motion in 2018 for the City of Thunder Bay to adopt a bylaw stating drivers can’t leave their parked car running for more than one minute.

In response, city council revised an existing noise By-law (By-law 131-2005) in 2018. That By-law already stated vehicles could idle for no longer than 5 minutes. The amendments adjusted the maximum time limit to idle from five minutes to two. It allows an exception to the time limit when temperatures are above 27 C or below 0 C.

While the amendments have been implemented for over five years, Wilberforce said not much has changed, as she still sees many parked cars idling.

Little change ‘frustrating,’ says Wilberforce

For Wilberforce, seeing no change to people’s idling habits has been “the most frustrating part.” She said she thinks many people are unaware of the idling regulations that exist in Thunder Bay.

“When we ask people about turning off their vehicles, a lot of people are unaware,” said Wilberforce. “And they’re quite willing to turn off their vehicles once they’re told about it.”

“There have been some people who, once we’ve said to them, ‘There’s an anti-idling bylaw,’ they said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re right,’ and then turn off their vehicle. But I would say that’s the minority of the people.”

Wilberforce said she reached out to Thunder Bay city council a few weeks ago asking for signs to be put up at parks like Hillcrest and Marina Park that state there’s an anti-idling bylaw.

She said she received a response from Coun. Michael Zussino, who told Wilberforce he would contact City Parks about getting them put up. Wilberforce says she also heard from city Mayor Ken Boshcoff, who told her she could present her request at the next available engineering agenda.

With regard to idling, Zussino said he gets “annoyed” with people running their parked cars and finds it irritating. He said he’s reached out to City Parks asking if they can put up a few more signs telling people not to idle. As of last week, Zussino said he’s still waiting for a response.

“We haven’t gone in either direction, but I think [putting up signs is] an easy thing to do. At least make it appear that you care, right?”

Superior Morning10:28Nicki Wilberforce: Thunder Bay Anti-Idling Bylaw

The woman who first motioned Thunder Bay city council to adopt an anti-idling bylaw in 2018 says not much has changed since its implementation. Nicki Wilberforce joined us live to tell us what needs to be done to make drivers stop idling.

Idling difficult to enforce

Wilberforce acknowledged it’s difficult to enforce the anti-idling regulations, but hopes steps can be taken to raise awareness. 

“I don’t know that there’s been any enforcement of the bylaw really,” she said. “There also aren’t any signs up. There were some signs at some of the parks prior to the bylaw being passed just suggesting that people shouldn’t be idling, and I think at some of the schools. But no signs have been put up saying there’s a bylaw.”

Doug Vincent, manager of licensing and enforcement with the City of Thunder Bay, said the challenge of enforcing the anti-idling section of the noise bylaw is that a person must witness someone idling and then get those observations documented.

As well, that person would have to identify who’s idling and when, and be willing to testify against them in court, so either an officer could lay a charge through the witness’ information, or the officer has to witness the idling themselves.

In addition, Vincent said all municipal vehicles, defined in By-law 131-2005 as any vehicle used for maintenance, snow clearing, highway repairs, construction, etc., and enforcement officers are exempt from the requirements of the noise bylaw. He added other exemptions for other types of vehicles include municipal vehicles, utility vehicles, police, fire and ambulance automobiles and those that require secondary heating and cooling systems.

“We do ask that they, where possible, not idle the vehicle,” said Vincent. “But when they’re operating with their computers and printers and stuff in the vehicle, that takes a lot of power. So sometimes they legitimately will have their equipment on, or if it’s exceptionally hot.”

Vincent said the city supports people being expected to follow the idling bylaw to protect the environment, and encourages everyone, including city staff that don’t require exemptions to the bylaw to do their job, to respect the idling time frames.

“If there’s no valid reason to have a city vehicle idling, it’s then really a choice of the individual and managers as to why a vehicle needs to idle.”

Officers should conduct an idling blitz, says Zussino

Vincent said the city generally gets idling complaints from residents whose neighbours are idling for prolonged periods of time. He said officers will go speak to the vehicle owner to inform them of the idling bylaw.

“We just educate them to let them know that we have an idling bylaw,” he said. “Now often, and more often than not, the temperature’s below 0 [C]. So it’s actually allowed. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten one for hot weather idling. And generally, once we inform the neighbours that there’s been a complaint, whether it’s below 0 [C] or not, we don’t get more calls from that location.”

Across the country, many cities like Hamilton have adopted anti-idling bylaws that limit the amount of time drivers can run their parked car. This past year, Hamilton students took part in the Fresh Air for Kids program designed to teach them about air quality, how to identify instances of high pollution and tell others to stop idling.

To encourage people to stop idling, Wilberforce said she thinks the city could conduct a campaign. Since the city has put up posters on billboards or buses for previous municipal issues, she said advertising would be helpful in educating people on the regulations.

As for Zussino, he said officers should do a one-week blitz where they go to certain areas where people idle the most, such as Hillcrest Park, and tell drivers to shut off their vehicles. He said he thinks conducting the blitz would be impactful in educating people about the idling bylaw.

“You do a couple weeks of that, I think people will get the message.”

A file photo shows hazy air over Thunder Bay’s harbour, due to wildfire smoke. Dr. Nicki Wilberforce says it was important for her to propose an anti-idling bylaw in Thunder Bay, Ont. because she worries about climate change. She says she thinks many people don’t consider idling’s negative effects on the environment. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

Idling a climate change contributor

Wilberforce said it was so important for her to have the anti-idling bylaw passed because she’s always been interested in the environment and worries about climate change.

“Just the amount of fossil fuels that are used and also put into the air with idling, I just thought this was some way that I could make a difference that would be somewhat measurable,” she said.

Wilberforce said she thinks there are a lot of people who don’t think about the environmental impacts of idling on their own.

“If they don’t know there’s an anti-idling bylaw, they are not necessarily going to be worried about polluting the air with their cars,” she said.

Wilberforce, a family doctor, added increased air pollution from idling can affect people’s respiratory and cardiovascular health, and referred to the air pollution from the forest fires burning across the country.

“This summer especially, we’ve seen a lot of the effects of climate change with wildfires and droughts, heat waves, storms,” said Wilberforce. “So all of those things have effects on people’s physical health as well as mental health with displacement of and burning down of homes.”

Zussino said the reason he’s so passionate about enforcing the anti-idling regulations is because of the numerous natural disasters occurring across the globe as a result of climate change.

“You see what’s going on all over the world – wildfires and floods and all this because we don’t do anything and then we’re like, ‘Oh look what happened.’ And then we’re reactive, we’re not proactive.”

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