A Small Switch for a Cleaner Reading

Tony Page
Cllr Tony Page

A new health campaign encouraging drivers in Reading to switch off their engines when stationary for more than a minute is set to be launched by the Council.

Research shows switching off a vehicle’s engine when stationary for a minute significantly reduces harmful pollutants and improves air quality. The Council is proposing an education campaign targeting ‘vehicle idling’ in hotspot areas like outside schools, at taxi ranks or at construction sites.

As part of the Council’s ongoing air quality action plan, the campaign would see anti-idling signs put up at key locations. Officers would periodically visit to advise motorists to switch off their engines when stopped for more than a minute,and to raise awareness of the associated health benefits. Fixed penalty notices would only be issued in exceptional circumstances where drivers refused to switch off their engines after being asked to, or for repeat offenders.

Proposals for the public information campaign will be discussed at the next meeting of Reading Borough Council’s Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport Committee (SEPT) on Wednesday November 23rd.

Councillor Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:

“Keeping an engine running when stationary contributes to harmful emissions which have a direct impact on health, particularly people with asthma or heart and lung conditions. The proposal is for a public information campaign to raise awareness of the detrimental impact idling has on air quality in Reading.

“We have seen many improvements to vehicle technology over the years and – contrary to popular belief – restarting your car does not harm the vehicle, and no longer burns more fuel than leaving it idling. Ignition engines in modern cars have eliminated this problem and research shows that turning off an engine and restarting it after a minute uses less fuel and causes less pollution.

“The idea is to focus on hotspot areas where we commonly see engines left idling, like outside schools, near construction sites or at taxi ranks. This is primarily an education campaign however, and I’d emphasise penalty notices would only be issued in rare circumstances where people refuse to switch off their engines when asked to, or continually leave engines running.

“If agreed this will be the latest in a series of sustainable transport measures that will help to further improve air quality in Reading.”

In common with other urban local authority areas which carry large amounts of traffic, Reading Borough Council last year implemented an Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP). This included a commitment to reduce emissions from idling vehicles at hotspot locations to help improve air quality.

The full SEPT Committee report can be found at http://www.reading.gov.uk/article/9626/Strategic-Environment-Planning–Transport-Committee-23-NOV-2016 (item 9). It includes examples of a number of public bodies – including Transport for London – which have run similar public awareness campaigns.

The Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002 gives discretionary powers to officers to issue fixed penalty notices of £20 to drivers (rising to £40 if unpaid) who allow their vehicle engines to run unnecessarily while the vehicle is stationary. The SEPT report seeks to gain authorisation for officers to use the regulations to help them carry out the campaign work.

The Council’s licensing officers have already held early discussions with the hackney carriage trade with the view to signing up to a set of agreed criteria, which would reduce idling at taxi ranks. A similar system already operates in Edinburgh.

The Council-owned bus company, Reading Buses, already runs some of the greenest buses in the UK, with a huge investment in the latest low carbon, cleaner fuel technologies. Alongside that, Reading Buses currently issue guidance to its drivers  to switch off if they are going to be more than 2 minutes at a bus stop.

The company is now also specifying stop-start technology as standard on new vehicles. Stop-start technology is when the engine automatically turns off when the car is stationary and turns back on when you need it. There were two vehicles in the Reading Buses fleet fitted with the technology, but six more arrived last month and five more are due to arrive in November.

Oscar Mortali

For media enquiries about this release email oscar.mortali@reading.gov.uk or call 0118 937 2301