Idling cars bring a heavy price for the environment - Rachael Revesz

Edinburgh Council wants to reduce car use by 30 per cent in terms of kilometres driven by 2030 – a more ambitious target than the country as a whole.

By Rachael Revesz
Monday, 9th May 2022, 10:21 am
Rachael Revesz
Rachael Revesz

The strategy includes electric cars, more walking and cycling and public transport. The aim is to get to Net Zero, fight the climate emergency and improve public health.

But they are missing a quick trick – idling vehicles.

These days, we are very unlikely to park on a double yellow or drive without wearing our seatbelts. Yet we think nothing of leaving our engine running while we pop into the shop or scroll Instagram. Every day I see drivers eating their lunch behind the wheel as adults, children and animals head through a cloud of fumes.

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Idling has been illegal since the 1980s.

The Council claims its Street Enforcement Team is tackling this crime. Freedom of Information data shows the team received 298 reports of idling vehicles between 2017 and the end of October in 2021. The number of reports almost doubled from 2020 to 2021 alone. Yet not a single Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) of £20 has been issued during that time.

Is the lack of sharp teeth partly because the team is down six officers in recent years?

When I reported an idler, I was asked if the car was often there and if so, the officers could arrange a visit. Another option was putting up a temporary sign. Short of arranging a Robin Hood-style ambush, or erecting a sign weeks or months after said driver has left the city / country, there didn’t seem much point in reporting at all.

The Council says they would always ask a driver to turn their engine off in the first instance, as per the law, and the lack of FPNs is proof that drivers always complied.

But I am not convinced that local authorities fully understand the legal powers they have had – since 1995 – to crack down on idling. When I enquired about idling last year, a high-up member of the separate, Active Travel Team replied: “I’m not familiar with legislation on idling and whether the Council has any powers to take enforcement action on this issue”.

One ray of hope is that NSL, the company that carries out parking enforcement for the Council, is exploring how they could tackle anti-idling on our streets, alongside the normal parking fines. This action is thanks to a motion from Liberal Democrat Councillor Neil Ross, and long overdue. NSL will report back this summer.

It’s not just Edinburgh that is failing to provide adequate resources in this area. Anti-idling muscle across our five neighbouring councils in South-East Scotland comes from one man, Tom Burr, who runs the Switch off and Breathe Campaign, through the Scottish Government’s Vehicle Emissions Partnership. Tom is the person who puts up signs, and reports vehicles – a heck of a lot of work for one person across a sixth of the country.

Maybe we could look abroad for inspiration. In New York, people who report idling vehicles get a cut of the fine. Some residents have made thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile, air pollution kills thousands of people every year. Cracking down on idling appears a relatively easy fix. No traffic regulation orders are required. The law is already in place, so let’s use it, and use it much better than we do now.

Rachael Revesz is a freelance journalist, local campaigner and volunteer with Living Streets Edinburgh