There doesn’t seem to be any simple way to combat car idling. Legislation hasn’t worked. Educational or press campaigns haven’t worked. Even automakers adding the automatic start/stop hasn’t worked, since most of those systems feature a manual override and many folks dislike the feel of a car turning off when they stop for a moment at a light. It seems like one of those problems never destined to be solved, but anyone who has walked through a sweltering New York City street packed with idling cars in the summer knows something has to give.
A recent Bloomberg CityLab article poses this exact question: how do we get people to stop idling? How do we succeed where legislation, and social pressure have failed?
The article notes that there are a lot of problems with the current system. Anti-idling laws tend to remain more symbolic than effective, and enforcement comes down to two main places: citizen watchdogs who report idling in their neighborhoods, or police officers. Neither of those are perfect solutions, especially since we all fall prey to our biases. Recent history has shown that law enforcement can be notoriously racist, and there can be a significant difference between the people who are let off with a warning and those against whom legal action is pursued.
Instead, Bloomberg reached out to Jeff Novich, who analyzed all 20,000 citizen complaints about idling in New York City and who has created the Reported app, which allows any user in New York to report a car that is blocking crosswalks, parked illegally, or driving recklessly. The goal was to imagine a different way of doing things.
From the article:
Like many transit advocates, Novich is skeptical that the police, even if further involved, would help solve the problem. “As a tax-paying resident, I should feel confident that enforcement is being done effectively,” he said. “And I don’t feel that way at all.” The rampant use of illegal placards and official vehicles that are parked illegally (not just in New York) lends to his cause.
Instead, Novich said that cities should explore automated enforcement. While no camera currently exists for idling, Novich said he can imagine one that identifies and timestamps how long a vehicle is in a zone, similar to the parking enforcement system in Amsterdam. Thermographic cameras, for heat, are another option.
“At the very least, we have tech that could get us more accurate survey data to know what’s going on,” Novich said.
The article also posits that automated emissions technologies could keep a data-driven record of who is idling when, and that the adoption of electric vehicles presents the serious possibility of curbing idling.
The most interesting thing, though, was the fact that the article suggested we study the ways people use their vehicles and how they run their engines. Understanding how a person in a hot, arid climate uses their engine compared to someone who drives in a cold, damp climate can provide more useful data about how to combat idling as it exists in a very specific region.
The full article does a masterful dive into the current stats surrounding idling, as well as the the variety of ways in which we can challenge the prevalence of idling.