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Metro Transit's polluting buses

Drivers routinely ignore Metro Transit's no-idling policy, increasing greenhouse gas emissions by millions of tonnes.


Seven buses sit parked with their engines running on Trollope Street in front of Citadel High School. They're on layover. They're not done their shift, but they're not picking up passengers either. Some have 10-minute layovers, but others idle for up to half an hour.

And the problem isn't just on Trollope Streeet. Beverly Miller, a South Street resident, points out that the several buses that stop on the Dalhousie University campus do the exact same thing.

"Those damn buses are idling on LeMarchant Street. It's a serious environmental and pollution health question," says Miller.

"Sometimes there are three buses idling, next to a (university) residence. And it's funny because, one day, there was a supervisor car there and, of course, he was also idling. I talk to some of the bus drivers about it and they look at me like I have three heads."

Metro Transit drivers witnessed idling at both Trollope and LeMarchant streets decline to comment for this article.

Halifax Regional Municipality has had an official anti-idling policy in place for its vehicles since September. Metro Transit spends almost $4 million on fuel each year.

And idling is on the provincial government's conscience, too. Recently Nova Scotia's energy minister, Barry Barnet, launched Conserve Nova Scotia's campaign to distribute signs reminding people to turn off their engines when stopped.

Regional councillor Sue Uteck, who represents the Dal neighbourhood, says residents are complaining to her about the bus idling.

"Sometimes during the extreme cold they were having trouble getting restarted because the oil was freezing," says Uteck.

"But there's an anti-idling policy, it's a relatively new policy. So if this is happening, there's some education that's needed, obviously."

Lori Patterson, spokesperson for Metro Transit, says she doesn't think education is a problem.

"It's right in their handbook."

Patterson says she can't comment on specific layover spots like Trollope and LeMarchant Streets, because there are specific situations such as the runtime the driver has and the temperature outside.

"Buses are different than other vehicles because they're the workplace of the drivers. So they spend up to eight hours a day on a bus," says Patterson.

"We have to maintain the comfort level of the bus. So that means maintaining heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer."

But recently on Trollope Street one driver idled for 30 minutes with his driver-side window wide open.

Gina Patterson (no relation to Lori Patterson), the coordinator for DriveWiseR, a fuel efficiency program run by Clean Nova Scotia, says that a bus idling for 30 minutes emits about 4.35 kilograms of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas.

A single bus idling for just 30 minutes a day, Monday to Friday for a year, will emit more than one tonne of carbon dioxide.

Patterson says Metro Transit encourages drivers to turn off their engines if they're idling for more than three minutes.

"It takes up to three minutes to inflate the air brakes after restarting the bus," she adds.

"If a service isn't running because the bus can't get started, that's what we have to think about when you're providing service for 17 million people every year."

But Beverly Miller is skeptical that restarting buses is the issue.

"When [the drivers] go to pee or get a Tim Hortons they turn them off and they come back on."

Ismet Ugursal, who heads the mechanical engineering department at Dalhousie University, says restarting a bus depends on a number of factors, including the outside temperature and how cold the engine got since being shut off.

"For a diesel to operate properly, the engine has to reach operating temperature," he says. "Which may take five minutes or more after a cold start."

Lori Patterson says she isn't aware of complaints from bus drivers about the policy, but adds she's heard from the public.

"The public is very aware of it. And we take it seriously, but we have to take into account our operations, too."

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