Beijing considers vehicle idling ban in bid to curb pollutionBy Dominic Dietrich Oct 29, 2013 11:50AM UTC
By Dominic Dietrich
With the city implementing several measures to clean an often-shrouded sky, Beijing may soon be joining the likes of Chicago, New Jersey, Toronto and Guangdong province’s Zhuhai by banning excessive vehicle idling.
Li Kunsheng, who heads vehicle emissions management at Beijing’s Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, discussed on Thursday a proposed ban on drivers idling in public areas – schools, shopping malls, hospitals – for longer than three minutes, according to China Daily. Those who fail to comply would be fined.
Li was speaking at a public hearing for the proposal. All nine delegates at the event supported the proposition, reported China Daily, adding that the proposal asserts that idling is an “inefficient use of fuel” and the resulting emissions are “negative effect on both air quality and public health.”
Were Beijing to adopt the proposal, it would be following in the metropolitan footsteps of cities both within and beyond the country.
Back in 2009, according to China Daily, Guangdong province’s Zhuhai city implemented just such a ban. Drivers who idle in public spots (e.g. hospitals and schools) are slapped with a 200-yuan (US$33) fine. According to China Daily, Shenzhen and Chongqing are both considering anti-idling policies.
Meanwhile, outside China, cities such as Toronto, Chicago and New Jersey have their own laws targeting drivers who idle.
Toronto’s policy goes back to the 1990s, but was amended in 2010 to limit allowable idling to one minute, lest a driver be fined CA$125. Chicago and New Jersey’s policies – both more recent – allow for three minutes. In Chicago the fine is a flat US$250; in New Jersey the minimum is US$250.
(MORE: Shanghai looks to clear the air)
Beijing’s introduction of the law, however, would also see the city contend with the resulting challenges, most notably the difficulty in enforcement.
“Beijing has more than 5 million vehicles,” Xiao Yaping, of the Beijing Automotive Research Institute, was quoted by China Daily as saying.
“It is almost impossible to calculate how many minutes a car’s engine is on when not moving.”
Li Xiaoxi, a retired teacher from the Air Force Command College of the People’s Liberation Army, supported the proposition but expressed reservations about enforcement. Li suggested the law should initially only apply to government vehicles.
“Maybe we can start with government cars, which should set an example to private car owners,” she said. Others suggested that the ban should for a year apply exclusively to taxis and buses before being expanded.
If Chicago’s example is anything to go by, concerns about effective implementation seem reasonable. In 2010, the Chicago Tribune reported that despite flagrant flaunting of the legislation less than 40 tickets have been issued in a four-year period.
“City officials have written only 34 tickets since 2006 for excessive idling, according to records obtained by the Tribune under the Freedom of Information Act,” the paper reported. “Dozens of times in September, October and November, the Tribune observed buses and trucks idling far longer than the city’s three-minute limit.”
Toronto’s city council website describes enforcement as involving “collaboration with the Toronto Police Service to enforce the bylaw, though the emphasis is on public awareness and general support for voluntary compliance.”
Others speaking about the Beijing proposal expressed concern about harm to passengers. “What if there is a patient inside the vehicle in summer or winter – without air conditioning, his or her health might be endangered,” Yang Yanqiu, a Beijing resident, was cited by the China Daily as saying.
The experience overseas offers a possible solution.
Chicago’s law has several exemptions, including “vehicles running when the outdoor air temperature is below 32 degrees or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius to around 26 degrees), for the operator’s or passengers’ safety,” the city website states.
Discussion of the proposal in Beijing comes amid several environmental policies being implemented in the country’s capital in recent months. In September, Beijing announced its own clean air initiative. The capital’s 2013-2017 plan looks to drastically cut coal consumption, increase clean energy use and remove or limit some polluting industries. The city also recently announced a policy that limits drivers to commuting on every other day during periods of severe air pollution. Shanghai, meanwhile, announced a clean air policy in October.
Beijing is regularly hit by shrouds of smog. In the first two months of the year the situation became so dire as to grab headlines around the world.
Citing the country’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, China Daily said car exhaust fumes contribute about 22 percent of the fine particulate matter in Beijing’s air.
The publication noted: “According to a study conducted by Beijing Jiaotong University, the emissions of PM2.5 – tiny particulate matter considered the most harmful to health – is at least five times higher when idling than when moving at even speed.”
Proponents of anti-idling legislation assert that switching the engine off saves money and helps maintain the engine. The city of Chicago’s website states that: “By not idling 30 minutes a day for one year, a truck driver saves 125 gallons of diesel and therefore approximately $374 in fuel costs (assuming a diesel fuel price of $2.99 per gallon) – while also preventing at least 101 pounds of air pollution and 2,775 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.” Citing heavy-vehicle manufacturers, the city also states that excessive idling damages the engine.
China Daily reported no discussion at the public hearing about the economic benefits of not idling a vehicle.
Citing a government official, China Daily said the “the draft regulation will be discussed in November for the third time and the final result will come out in January.”