November 25th, 2008
My testimony on the engine idling issue before the NYC City Council
Thank you very much for the opportunity to testify before your committee. My involvement in the anti idling movement is, I believe, unique and I trust it will give you some insight into the problem and will come to reinforce your decisions to modify and strengthen the current laws.
I’m a graduate of the University of Arizona and did graduate work at NYU. I’m a 28 year resident of Manhattan and currently work for a major European bank, in their Latin American lending division. I have been with this bank for 7 years.
My role as an activist in the environmental movement is quite focused on idling. Focused and personal. It began more than 4 years ago when we went to war for a second time in the Middle East over oil. And it became ever more aggravating for me to watch fellow NYers, mindless at the wheel, idling their engines and wasting gas... or oil as I saw it. Besides, I felt it was disgraceful on many fronts. Bad Air, health issues, wasted money.
One evening, I became particularly fed up with a stretch limo parked in front of my apartment house, idling, as his customers were inside a nearby restaurant. It was spring, at night and around 50 degrees outside. I knocked on the window. The limo driver and I had a 10 minute discussion. Ultimately, I convinced him to shut off his engine.
This first success gave me courage. For the next six months I would follow the same procedure on my way to and from work and on the weekends. I found myself becoming more and more successful.
One evening, I asked someone who appeared to be a limo driver to shut off his engine. It was an undercover policeman. I backed off but the officer said…
“Did you know there is a law against it…? Fines too? But I’m not sure how much the fines are??”
That was a true catalyst for me. I had actually been enforcing a law, as a vigilante, so to speak, not even knowing it. I did extensive research and worked with the State EPA to learn more about the law and fines.
Once I had a clear handle on the law and fines, I had cards printed up, as you see here.
This describes the law on one side and penalties on the other.
This gave me more confidence….but with this tool in hand, I wanted to keep tabs on how successful, statistically, I would become. So I created an excel spread sheet as seen here.
In my first year of keeping records, I had:
- 823 encounters
- 11% female
- 88% male
- I was unsuccessful 23% of the time but I was successful 78% of the time …and by success I mean I would watch the violator shut off his engine.
- 55% were white
- 25% knew of the law but idled anyway
- 53% were between the ages of 35 and 50
- And 12% were limos
The statistics were basically the same in year two but I had only 615 encounters. Less production, but I was more successful, at least with limos… because I was only successful 70% of the time in year one and I was 90% successful in year two.
I have written a letter to Mr. Daus, Commissioner of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, explaining the seriousness of the problem. I hope to meet with him soon.
I will add that in the corporate world, Con Ed is by far the biggest offender. I am in touch with the Director of Environment, Health and Safety at Con Ed and have discussed this issue with him
In my encounters, I always start of my conversation by saying,
“Excuse me for bothering you…but are you aware that it’s against the law to idle your car engine in NYC for more then 3 minutes?”
No matter what happens in-between, in the end I always give them a mild command.
“Then it would be great if you could shut off your engine. Better environment, you save money and you’re a good citizen obeying the law.”
So, in two years I have had 1438 total encounters, or roughly 59 a month. I’m on track in year three for the same. But key here is that 77 % will shut off their engines… with only ME asking them to do so.
Imagine how agreeable NYC citizens would be if more knew about the law (when only roughly 25% know of it) and how much quicker they would know about it… if police enforced it and fines were issued. The word would spread very quickly.
And a huge sum of money would have been raised. If I had been a police officer issuing idling tickets during this time, I could have raised $316,360 for the city, and this just while walking to and from work and weekend strolls. This calculation is based on the lowest ticket amount which is $220 but tickets for third time offenders can reach $2,000.
You should know that I’m making a documentary film on the topic and have interviewed many key people in the field on it. It’s in an 11 minute demo version now. Two key officers within Chief Scagnelli’s Police Traffic Division saw this video in the spring of 2007 and were impressed. It was presented to the PR division in City Hall in the summer of 2007, but it got me nowhere. I’m hoping to have the EDF approve a 3 minute version of it suitable for Utube as part of an attention and awareness campaign.
I was fortunate indeed to have gotten into the offices of EDF in the summer of 2007 to discuss my ideas and research and statistics… all to encourage them to support this effort to, on a very micro level, help enforce existing laws on the books for years in NYC. Now look where we are. We are almost home.
I’m sure you have read the EDF white paper on the idling topic which points out all the health issues and revenue earning possibilities for the City of NY in this time of economic crisis.
I see the enforcement of the 3 minute or perhaps 1 minute no idling law as a complete win win win situation: A win for the environment, a win for the citizens of NYC to live in a cleaner and healthier city and a win for the city coffers.
And to the point, a key way to ensure its enforcement of the law is to demand that Chief Scagnelli’s traffic police force enforce it… because right now traffic agents don’t have the idling codes in either their hand held computer system nor is it listed on their printed ‘ticket’ sheets as an enforceable violation. I find this appalling and incomprehensible.
In closing, I hope NYC can become, once again, the model for the rest of the country. If the City Council votes to enforce these laws, this goal can be realized. I thank you for your time and consideration