Bylaw Enforcement is Anti-Transit

I wish that I could put this story down to the silly-season, the pre-election follies that afflict City Hall.

I wish, but I can’t.

Today, we learn in the Star that TTC buses will be forced to comply with the anti-idling bylaw, although there are good reasons for not doing so, as the article describes.

Meanwhile, we learned only two days ago of the many exemptions available to those who flout traffic control bylaws.  These are the “legal” exemptions, not to mention the many other road users who operate as if traffic bylaws don’t apply to them.

Enforcement can be spotty, even when paid duty constables are hired as the TTC did a few years ago to patrol King Street, because everyone knows the tickets will either be cancelled, or will be treated as a business expense.  Meanwhile, the City and the TTC gripe about traffic congestion and its effect on transit service.

Maybe they should both start with a “war on cars” where it matters, on all those cars that block lanes intended for moving traffic.  A fleet of tow trucks will drive the message home that roads do not exist to store cars, they exist to move them.

Once that challenge is in hand, the City can turn to a long-suggested but still not implemented proposal to extend the times designated for rush hour restrictions.

If Toronto has nothing better to do than ticket idling buses, then the City has lost sight of the real problem on our streets.

29 thoughts on “Bylaw Enforcement is Anti-Transit

  1. Steve, I really don’t understand why there is so much hesitance on the part of the TTC to mandate their drivers to shut off their engines while buses are stopped at layovers or terminal stations. I’ve been to Vancouver many times over the past ten years, and every time I see a diesel bus stopped at a layover point, the engine is shut off. In fact, drivers shut off their engines as soon as they reach the end of their route, every time. So, that begs the question, why can’t the TTC do the same? Their reasoning about letting the buses idle to cool off the turbocharger seems like a hollow excuse. Wouldn’t Vancouver have this problem too?

    I’m at Kennedy station five days a week, and constantly see buses parked along the outer curb. Every bus, with the odd exception, is left with its engine idling for five or ten minutes and there is often no driver inside the vehicle. This makes absolutely no sense, and frankly, makes the TTC and its drivers look hopelessly out of touch. It portrays the wrong image of what the TTC should stand for.

    Steve: I agree that for longer layovers, shutting down the engine should be done. The comparison to Vancouver is interesting, and I will have to enquire there about actual practice on their diesel fleet. (Of course, it’s not an issue on their large trolleybus fleet.)


  2. Presumably if it takes 3 minutes to cool down a bus engine before you take it off, any court in the land is going to define the idling period as not starting until that 3 minutes is over. It’s hardly idle until then is it!


  3. There is a big difference in the engines between cars and large vehicles (such as buses). For a car, the turn-off/turn-on cycle takes about 15 seconds. For a bus or truck, it’s more like 10 minutes for the reasons outlined in the article.

    If it’s a vehicle you can drive with a standard class G license, the rule should be one minute. For bigger vehicles, 15 minutes.

    Why can’t we have a by-law which works like that?


  4. Oakville also shuts down its buses upon arrival at terminal points where there is a layover. This procedure is clearly communicated to drivers as its done almost without exception. Oakville’s bus fleet – although not hybrid – is very new.


  5. Not to worry. The Star will soon be reporting about a secret idling law exception book, and how they enforce the laws a strongly as they do for carpool/bus lanes.


  6. I have a turbo charged diesel on my boat and I have to idle it for 3 to 5 minutes if I have been running hard. If I don’t then it can suffer from differential cooling which can warp the blades and send it out of balance. Starting it in this condition could be catastrophic. I usually try to spend the last few minutes coming into port or anchor at idle speed to cool the turbo charger down. If I am using the Trent Severn canal where you have to shut you engines off then I keep the boat speed below that where the turbo kicks in. This might be possible on some congested bus routes but is not practical on most lines.


  7. OC Transpo also shuts down their engines at the end of each run. Unlike the TTC, OC Transpo does not expect their vehicles to immediately arrive, alight, load and leave a terminal point. From my observation, most OC Transpo runs–even the interlined ones–have way longer layovers than TTC runs. The only problem is that it takes about ten minutes or so for the AC to kick in again, and Flyer Inveros are notorious for poor air ventilation, so you die from lack of oxygen before you feel any cool relief.

    Nevertheless, the buses are shut down, no matter what.

    Another thing I have noticed with TTC buses is that their start-up is far noisier than the start-up of OC Transpo buses. In fact, it always sounds like some gears are being destroyed when a TTC driver starts up a bus.


  8. I noticed today at Bathurst station several buses (1500-1600 series hybrids) entered the loop and immediately killed the engines while the operators took their breaks.

    I’m amazed at how quickly the TTC can move when the fancy strikes them.


  9. After this, maybe the TTC won’t be so quick to dismiss the idea of bringing back our electric trolleybus system the next time the idea comes up. That system should have been retained and expanded with articulated vehicles. Some of the new trolleybus vehicles can even run off-wire for a short period of time to divert from a fixed route or pass another trolley bus.

    Having said that, I’m getting enormous satisfaction watching the lefties and transit crowd get a taste of the City’s “war on cars” medicine. We motorists have been complaining about this kind of senseless crap for years. The emissions that come from idling are a drop in the bucket compared to all the traffic out there, and this measure isn’t going to benefit anyone.

    Buses routinely need to pull over for service headway adjustments, and it isn’t practical for operators to turn their engines off, even on layovers up to 10 minutes. This is the one advantage they have over streetcars, and now we’re taking it away?


  10. What is really silly about anti-idling laws, particularly in Toronto, is that I suspect that most pollution from idling comes from our tendency to have short-cycle traffic lights, at least compared to a number of other cities I have lived in. Though I suppose the anti-idling laws and short cycle lights go hand in hand, since the laws would require drivers (including transit) to shut off their engines if they didn’t have to creep forward eight car lengths every sixty or so seconds.

    Many other cities, particularly during rush hours, tend to have longer traffic light cycles. Yes, one must wait longer for their direction gets the green, but the chances of getting though on the first green are greatly increased.

    Before anyone jumps in with the “it doesn’t matter if the cycle is x seconds or y seconds, each direction gets its same share” argument, this is false because of the cycle change time (yellow and overlapping reds). Cycle change time is fixed for a given speed limit, and increasing the total cycle length increases the percentage of green light time. While waiting to cross at one intersection recently, I noticed that each way got 24 seconds of green time while there was 6 seconds of yellow and overlapping red. This meant that in every 60 seconds, there was 12 seconds (20% of the cycle) of time when traffic shouldn’t be moving in any direction, except for those coming to a stop or gunning it through. That is 4.8 hours per day of everyone idling, to look at it in an extreme way. If the cycle were extended to 120 seconds, the change time would still be 12 seconds but that would now represent only 10% of the time.

    Combine that effect with the fact that when the light changes, each driver’s reaction time adds a few seconds before they move. Doubling the length of the green light actually allows more than double the number of vehicles to make it through.

    Getting back to public transit, I strongly suspect that our hopes of decent transit priority signalling may be little more than wishful thinking given how badly our roads department do standard signalling.


  11. War on Illegaly Parked Cars would help *everyone*. Car drivers mutter “war on cars” but most give the doofuses who are stopped in a no-stopping zone to run in for their coffee or dry cleaning a pass. “There but for the grace of the drive-thru” or something. Even though these stopped cars are worse for traffic flow than any bicycle or bus. And are predictable (for example, there are *always* cars stopped in the southbound curb lane of Yonge, just north of St. Clair).

    One approach is to equip buses and streetcars with light-alloy cowcatchers that push….hmm, *hurl*….illegally-stopped vehicles out of the way. In the cases where the hurld vehicles would land on pedestrians, perhaps we need to run heavy track-equipped “lane crusher” machines that will flatten the stopped vehicles into a suitable road surface.


  12. Tom West said: “If it’s a vehicle you can drive with a standard class G license, the rule should be one minute. For bigger vehicles, 15 minutes.”

    This sounds very reasonable. What surprises me is that all TTC board members happen to be members of the City Council. Is it so hard for them to ask staff about the operational parameters of their own buses, then inform the rest of City Council, and help them word the bylaw properly?


  13. Calvin Henry-Cotnam says:
    June 12, 2010 at 8:45 am

    “What is really silly about anti-idling laws, particularly in Toronto, is that I suspect that most pollution from idling comes from our tendency to have short-cycle traffic lights, at least compared to a number of other cities I have lived in. Though I suppose the anti-idling laws and short cycle lights go hand in hand, since the laws would require drivers (including transit) to shut off their engines if they didn’t have to creep forward eight car lengths every sixty or so seconds.

    “Many other cities, particularly during rush hours, tend to have longer traffic light cycles. Yes, one must wait longer for their direction gets the green, but the chances of getting though on the first green are greatly increased.”

    Traffic light cycle time is also a function of block length and in downtown Toronto it is short. If you have long cycle length then you get long line ups behind the intersection which block the street behind. This street then blocks other streets and then you get grid lock. When you get out into the old suburbs, Scarborough, North York, Etobicoke the cycle time lengthens. It gets even longer in the 905 area. I personally believe that shortening some of the cycle times would improve efficiency in many areas as hardly any cars go through at the end of the cycle compared to the start. This would decrease the waiting time during the red phase. There are a number of computer simulations available that are supposed to make a science out of designing cycle times but as a Physics and Math teacher I believe that a lot of art is necessary in getting the best design time, much of it is a “Black Art.”

    While you are correct in saying that the per cent of time given to each green phase increases with cycle length the important thing is to optimize the number of cars that can get trough while minimizing the length of the stopped time. At many lights the number of cars that goes through the intersection in the last quarter of the green phase is a lot less than in the first quarter. Unless this time is needed to clear pedestrians then this causes excess delay to the stopped traffic. The worst examples of this are usually cops on point duty who have not been properly trained.

    If you think Toronto has short cycle times then don’t go to downtown Memphis. They have cycle times well under a minute at some lights.

    Steve: For an example of long cycles in central Toronto, look at some of the crossings of Lake Shore. You can stand at Bathurst, Fleet and Lake Shore and watch the excessive east-west green time while streetcars queue waiting for their signals. Anyone who thinks we have “Transit Priority” needs to see how we cater to the commuters on Lake Shore first.


  14. I should have been clearer about short traffic light cycle times in that I was referring to some of the suburban arteries. Shorter block lengths definitely must have shorter cycle times.

    While optimizing traffic lights is to a great extent a ‘Black Art’, it often seems that in the GTA there are too many examples of what seems to be no effort to even try. We seem to have far too many intersections where the timing is either so long that vehicles have backed up to the point no more can get through, or so short that less than half the cars that were there waiting when it turned green actually get through.

    Steve: There is a related problem at some “Transit Priority” locations where the transit phase is barely long enough for one vehicle even though more than one may be present. This presents challenging problems when the headway is shorter than the cycle time.


  15. Referring to David Cavlovic:

    I recall seeing most OC Transpo buses turned off waiting to pick up passengers on the 4, 7 and 117 at Carleton. I never paid too much attention to it. But now it makes sense.


  16. I’d love to see the anti-idling bylaw enforced for buses laying over at subway stations. I used to commute out of York Mills, Don Mills, and Lawrence stations, and the air in the underground bus bays was inhospitable to human life.


  17. It would irk me if the person issuing the ticket for idling, has his own vehicle idling away as he/she writes the ticket. About the same level as those cops who block traffic as they write traffic tickets.


  18. How does the TTC consider just an extended green and the “current” transit priority on Queens Quay as true transit priority?

    True transit priority should mean that when a streetcar approaches the intersection, the signal will turn green. Instead, we still have streetcars stopping twice. Considering the streetcars operate pretty slowly, this is possible.

    A great way is to extend this to buses, especially for far side stops. If the buses don’t top twice, there would be less idling and an extra “stop and accelerate”. This would be a better approach to reduce emission, instead of this 1 minute idle limit that is almost impossible to enforce.

    Steve: “Transit Priority” in Toronto means giving the transit vehicles whatever scraps of green time we can pry away from the autos. The argument always is that if we take too much, we will screw up auto traffic, and transit will be caught by the resulting mess. That is likely valid in some cases, but we have already seen examples of very conservative “priority” schemes that actually gave transit less chance to get through intersections that just sharing the green time of through traffic. Compare/contrast signalling on Harbourfront to that on Spadina and St. Clair.


  19. If you really want to stop emissions from idling vehicles then ban ALL DRIVE THROUGH’s. Time how long cars sit at the drive throughs at Tim’s or McD’s and it is a lot longer than 1 minute. It would be interesting to see what would happen if these cars were ticketed for not shutting off their engines while waiting. This is one of the largest abusers of idling engines.


  20. I wonder if the bylaw enforcement officers will have enough nerve to write up the Toronto Police Service too? They don’t seem to have a problem sitting parked with the engine on at the side of the road.

    The cars stuck in traffic because of the bozos that stop in the middle of an intersection aren’t helping matters either. How hard can it be to not go into an intersection if there is no way you can get to the other side?


  21. M. Briganti makes some interesting comments about trolleybusses but, unfortunately we all know that there is absolutely ZERO chance of them ever returning to Toronto. I must agree with him, though, that this measure won’t help anyone at all. In fact if I were to describe it in just one word I would call it theatre. It’s yet another example of how our so-called experts and so-called leaders come up with some supposed fixes that really aren’t. I’m sure that there is such a thing as a person who can prove that this can do more harm than good.


  22. STM (Montreal) Bus Fleet To Be Fully Electric By 2025.

    This is the sort of thing your province can do when it has an electricity surplus. It does seem to assume Ottawa-length terminal stops rather than 1-10mins as at TTC stations.

    I find City Council’s decision inexplicable as I do TTC’s involvement. TTC ran a trial of shutdowns at Coxwell which lasted about five minutes before they went back to idling. Surely TTC Staff should have represented why this showed idling was a requirement for their equipment… unless the trial failed for human, not mechanical reasons?


  23. The TTC should honestly just ignore this by-law. Does the city really expect millions of riders to freeze in the winter or boil in the summer. If they do they must be very intoxicated


  24. That’s quite an article you have there, mark. It’s great to see Montreal apparently going back to trolley busses on at least certain routes. I would think though that their straight electric busses they’d make them capable to run as both trolley busses and fast charge busses. What, if anything, has happened to the Laval trolley bus plan?


  25. I just got a news article e-mailed to me by my brother which indicates a battle starting to brew in Seattle over the future of the trolleybus system there. Let’s just see how this one plays out. Apparently there was little, if any, opposition to the abandonment of TBs in Edmonton. I understand that Edmonton’s TB route structure wasn’t the greatest anyhow.


  26. “The emissions that come from idling are a drop in the bucket compared to all the traffic out there, ”

    And somehow all the drops from millions of idling vehicles adds up to buckets.

    Tour buses have regarded my downtown street as another bus station in the summer. The noise and fumes were intolerable. After many, many calls through the bureacratic labyrinth over 2 or 3 years, it seems that suddenly the message has gotten through (touch wood) and the buses are now silent when still. (A zillion thank yous to the bylaw enforcement people!!!)

    Somehow, life as we know it continues. The buses come, turn off their engines, drop off and pick up passengers, start up again after sitting quiet for varying lengths of time and go.

    Another huge idling offender is city and private trucks. People don’t seem to care about burning gas while going nowhere if they’re not paying the gas bill themselves.

    Judging by the numbers of drivers still seen idling, the price of gas is still much too cheap.

    Steve: Toronto needs to take a “no prisoners” approach to ticketing. Tow away or boot the offending vehicles and make the “inconvenience” a tad more than calling up City Hall to get your ticket cancelled under one of the many exemptions.

    I think it would be quite amusing if a sign listing all of the exemptions were posted with every “No Doing That Here” sign.


  27. “Toronto needs to take a “no prisoners” approach to ticketing”

    It does when it want’s to. Try parking on one of those rush-hour no parking lanes between 7 am and 9 am or 4 pm to 6 pm.


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