Vancouver’s idle-free bylaw enforced

specimen street sign
After a six-month education and awareness campaign, Vancouver’s Idle-free Bylaw is now being enforced by the City. Parking enforcement staff are issuing tickets for any parked vehicles found idling for more than three minutes. Violators will incur fines of $50 (basic violation) or $100 (heavy trucks and unattended vehicles).

Vancouver City Council enacted the Idle-free Bylaw on July 18, 2006. It was accompanied by community engagement initiatives (at businesses and schools), and an educational/awareness campaign involving radio, print, and outdoor advertising.

The enforcement campaign will continue to include an educational component in the form of flyers, signs and posters. Also, in 2007 the City is looking to partner with the local construction industry and other private fleet operators to ensure full awareness of the Idle-free Bylaw.

During a telephone interview, Brian Beck, the Project Manager for Community Vehicles Fuels and Efficiencies, outlined the progress to date. He said the city’s in-house education program has been successful in encouraging municipal operators to shut down their engines when possible. The City has also invested in LED safety lights and auxiliary heaters that allow vehicles to fulfil operational needs when stationary without idling.

Public opinion remains favourable toward the bylaw, according to Beck, who noted that the idle-free hotline (604.257.2404) has received more calls than expected. Construction sites have drawn the most complaints and citizens are encouraged to call the hotline to report repeat offenders and problem locations. An answering machine makes the line available 24 hours a day. The City’s limited resources for the program force it to use a discretionary approach in responding to complaints. It sends officers to investigate complaints based on the public impact, probable success and educational value of confronting offenders. Mr. Beck characterized the bylaw as “… a small step that will hopefully engage citizens in environmental issues and encourage them to apply green thinking more widely.”

Since Jan 18, dozens of tickets have been issued, as well as hundreds of warnings. About a hundred incidents have been logged since enforcement officially began a month ago. Although some drivers receiving tickets or warnings have protested their innocence to bylaw enforcement officers, Beck is unaware of any cases being disputed in court thus far.

Vancouver’s bylaw, one of only a handful across the country to include penalties, grew out of work by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) which began its anti-idling campaign in 2002. NRCan provided some funding to Vancouver to conduct consumer surveys on its proposed bylaw.

Other Municipalities

Various types of anti-idling provisions have been written into municipal by-laws for at least three decades. The City of Montreal passed an air quality by-law in 1970 that prohibited vehicles from idling more than four minutes if they were parked less than 60 metres from an opening of a building. Several other municipalities included anti-idling provisions in noise by-laws in subsequent years, primarily to prevent disturbance from noisy vehicles idling in, or near, residential areas, rather than to reduce noxious air emissions.

The first stand-alone idling control by-law was passed by the City of Toronto in 1996. By 2005, more than 20 Ontario municipalities had either stand-alone idling control by-laws, or anti-idling provisions in other by-laws. Few municipalities outside Ontario have stand-alone by-laws, though many have anti-idling provisions in other by-laws and have mounted effective idle-free campaigns.

In 2004, the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) finalized a model idling control by-law and recommended its adoption by member municipalities. Several GVRD municipalities have rejected bylaws as too difficult to enforce, opting instead for public education.

In 2005, North Vancouver added an anti-idling provision with a $45 fine to its existing traffic bylaw and Gibsons, BC passed a new anti-idling bylaw that calls for fines of $250.

Anti-idling Laws in the United States

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) SmartWay Transport Partnership has formulated a model for a state idling law, but the EPA itself is not promulgating any type of regulation regarding vehicle idling.

Approximately 15 states and dozens of local counties have adopted laws that restrict how long a vehicle can idle its main engine. In April 2006, EPA compiled a list of state and local anti-idling laws (PDF, 102 pp, 506K). For an occasionally updated list of state and local laws, see the American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI’s) current list of state and local laws (PDF, 7 pp, 74K).

The trucking industry has expressed concern about the inconsistent pattern and impractical design of existing state and local idling restriction laws. Many truck drivers and owners lack knowledge and understanding of these laws, which decreases their ability to comply. However, the American Trucking Association (ATA) continues to support anti-idling regulations in principle.

Anti-idling Technology for Commercial Trucks

Based on the 2005 average retail price of diesel fuel ($2.40/gallon), sleeper cab operators spent an average of $3,494 USD in 2005 to idle a truck while day cab operators spent an average of $749, according to the ATRI.

An ATRI research report found that 36% of respondents with sleeper cabs currently use on-board idle reduction technologies (technologies which provide power for heaters, air conditioners, and/or in-cab appliances while eliminating main engine idling). Overall, 81 percent of those using on-board idling reduction technologies were either satisfied or very satisfied with these technologies. However, cost has limited their widespread adoption by trucking companies and owner/operators. The reported average cost of idle reduction technologies was:

  • $888 to purchase and $110 to annually maintain direct-fired heaters;
  • $4,300 to purchase and $200 to annually maintain battery-powered air conditioners; and
  • $7,750 to purchase auxiliary power units/generator sets (maintenance costs were not adequately reported).

On average, survey respondents were willing to pay $2,165 per truck for idle reduction technologies. (Source: ATRI Idle Reduction Technology: Fleet Preferences Survey)

Most major North American Class 8 truck manufacturers offer vehicles meeting the US EPA’s Certified SmartWay tractor program, which specifies the following:

  • Model Year 2007 or later engine;
  • Integrated cab-high roof fairing;
  • Tractor-mounted side fairing gap reducers;
  • Tractor fuel-tank side fairings;
  • Aerodynamic bumper and mirrors;
  • Options for reducing periods of extended engine idling (auxiliary power units, generator sets, direct fired heaters, battery powered HVAC system, and automatic engine start/stop system); and
  • Options for low-rolling resistance tires (single wide or dual).



2.7 A person must not cause or permit a motor vehicle to idle:
(a) for more than three consecutive minutes in a 60 minute period; or
(b) while unattended and unlocked.
Idling exception
2.8 Section 2.7(a) does not apply to a:
(a) motor vehicle that contains or has attached to it equipment requiring power from the engine to operate in the course of the operation of such equipment for a commercial or public purpose;
(b) police, fire, ambulance, or other emergency motor vehicle in the course of the performance of police, fire, ambulance, or other emergency duties including training activities;
(c) motor vehicle in the course of assistance in an emergency;
(d) armoured motor vehicle, used to transport money or valuables, in which a person remains to guard the contents, in the course of the loading or unloading of such money or valuables;
(e) motor vehicle in the course of a race or parade Council has approved; or
(f) bus while its passengers are in the course of embarking or disembarking.

The City’s stated goals for the bylaw are to:

  • protect air quality
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • reduce urban noise
  • reduce vehicle theft
  • save money on fuel.


The city is seeking input from private fleets and industry groups — notably the construction industry — to help develop a framework for public-private partnerships. The city can also provide some support materials to private fleet operators starting their own idle-free programs.

For more information:
Brian Beck
Project Manager, Community Vehicles Fuels and Efficiencies
City of Vancouver Sustainability Group

Other Vancouver Initiatives

In support of a Council mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by six per cent from 1990 levels by 2012, the City is launching other low-carbon driving initiatives such as:

  • tire-inflation awareness,
  • encouraging fuel efficient maintenance habits,
  • promoting best practices for fleet operators, and
  • supporting market uptake for new engine technologies and fuel solutions.

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