On my way to work yesterday morning, I was perplexed to see a SmartCar join the ever present ranks of other vehicles idling in line at the Tim Horton’s drive-thru window near my work. The drive-thru never fails to irritate me—the choice of convenience over carbon dioxide emissions is a pet peeve—but the presence of the car that had specifically been designed to reduce vehicle emissions in a line-up that does nothing but pollute the air for the sake of a double double was bewildering.
Drive-thru windows are a huge source of vehicle emissions in cities around the world, but particularly in North America, where citizens rely heavily on personal vehicles as their primary form of transportation. A study carried out by Central Massachusetts University determined that during an average day at a McDonald’s drive-thru, 272 cars and 131 trucks passed through the takeout lane. Cars spent 1,539 minutes idling, while trucks spent 698 minutes idling. The average daily release of emissions at that particular restaurant was determined to be 10,704.4 grams, and the total annual emissions was determined to be 3,906.7 kilograms using EPA idling data.
Activists in Hamilton, ON, are encourage their municipal leaders to curb emissions in their city by adopting a multi-faceted plan that bans drive-thrus, curbside idling, gas-powered lawn machines such as leaf-blowers and weed-whackers. The plan also involves positive measures—like doubling the city’s tree canopy to increase shade within the city’s limits and increasing the mass transit system. But it’s the immediate moratorium on drive-thru windows and the plan over time to eliminate those in current operation that got the greatest reaction from city planners and the general public. Even though the lack of drive-thru windows would decrease emissions, encourage drivers to adopt healthier habits and eliminate a great deal of noise pollution in crowded business areas, many Hamiltonians remain unconvinced that a ban on drive-thrus would improve their city. The city is still debating the proposal—first put forward in December 2006—and it is scheduled to go vote sometime in 2007.
It is not just Ontarians who are refusing to stop at drive-thru bank tellers, coffee vendors or fast food hawkers. The Natural Resources Canada division of the federal government launched an anti-idling campaign in 2001 to help educate Canadians about the myths surrounding idling in colder climates. Their campaign focuses heavily on what is good for your vehicle—and your wallet. More than 10 seconds of idling in a car uses more fuel than shutting it off and restarting it when needed. Restarting your car has little impact on the starter, fuel pump and ignition system. Any wear and tear incurred is more than made up in the fuel savings. More than anything, cars and trucks are not designed to idle. Excessive idling can cause grease, grime and othe build-up to accumulate on spark-plugs and other engine parts.
So, next time you’re in a rush to get a coffee, beat the smog-filled line-up snaking around the building and just park. Chances are, you’ll be in and out faster than you would if you were still waiting in the drive-thru.