Sunday, 20 May 2012

Drivers, Stop Your Engines!

Why is that driver idling his bus? It's not too cold or too hot, he's gone to the bathroom...and the bus is sitting there running. What gives?

Here is the City's Idling policy as I understand it. 

On hot days when temperatures exceed 25 degrees Celsius the following procedures are to be 
followed at lay-up points to avoid “starting up” problems with 1990 and newer buses. 
1. Should the waiting period not exceed 10 minutes, you should place the transmission in 
neutral apply the Maxi Brake and let the bus idle.  Do not shut it off. 
2. Should the waiting period exceed 10 minutes, place the transmission in neutral apply the 
Maxi Brake and let the bus idle for 3 minutes, then shut the engine down. 
3. Those buses equipped with the "fast idle" switch must have the switch turned to the "on" 
position when idling. 
Note: 1989 buses and older do not require the above procedures.  These can be shut 
down following one minute idling. 
On cold days when temperatures drop below –5 degrees Celsius, all buses are to be keep running 
to avoid start-up problems. 
If you have any concerns or questions on these procedures, contact Control.

This policy is the most misunderstood document in the history of OC Transpo. Many drivers I speak to have no idea that this policy does not apply between -5C and 25C. So, they idle their buses at 10C because their break is under 10 minutes. Waiting three minutes to shut your engines off (and the whole ten minute rule) applies only to temperatures above 25 degrees celsius. This is a precaution to avoid overheating a stopped engine that continues to produce radiant energy minutes after heavy duty use. Circulating coolant after heavy use is crucial to dissipate the stored energy of a hot engine block.

In most cases, the time between opening the front door to empty the bus and parking it would be into the three minute range, and would like suffice as a suitable cool-down period.

The myths about idling are surely outdated. Many drivers still subscribe to the logic that idling the bus consumes less fuel than restarting it, or that they are preserving the starter motor by not frequently engaging it. Hogwash. A bus could be shut down and restarted 15 times in a one minute period, and still use use less fuel than idling for that same minute. Long gone are the days of two-stroke Detroits, carburetors, and a priming pump to fill up the float bowls and dump a litre of fuel out the exhaust at each start. Todays engines are directly injected, using the same amount of fuel on the first combustion stroke as it does on the last.  An idling bus uses roughly one litre of fuel every fifteen minutes. So for every 30 minutes at Hurdman station, those 20 buses parked there idling have blown the equivalent of the fuel capacity of an average car. As far as the starter motor argument, that's just a little bit laughable. The electric starter motors on these buses will outlast the rest of the bus, and in some cases, their drivers. Electric motors are very, very durable.

Idling a bus is rarely a product of logic anyway. Can we be honest here? We idle our buses for comfort, nothing else. We are not talking about essential comfort either. We are talking about frivolous comfort. It's something that needs to stop. The air conditioner on a bus runs continuously when it is hot out and the bus is in service. That 8 minute layover will cause the bus to be warmer for your break, but it will not cause any extra fuel consumption when the bus is restarted. You are not driving an Energy Star R2000 home on wheels. There is no insulative  property to bus windows. The A/C will run non-stop until you shut the bus off. So let's can the argument that idling keeps the air conditioning costs down. Go sit at the picnic table, or head into the Taj MaHurdman for a cool drink. Save your taxes for other things, like severance packages.

Idling in the cold is a misfire on the city policy, in my opinion. There needs to be driver discretion here, as being cold should not part of a job description, but a policy rule on -5 is setting the bar a little low. There is not a bus in the fleet that couldn't handle a shutdown and restart within a 15 minute period in -20C, let alone -5C. Drivers should be encouraged to shut their buses down at every opportunity. If a driver has the common sense to shut down when it's -10C outside, realizing that he will not freeze to death in the 6 minutes he has between runs... so be it! The policy states that I'm not allowed to shut down at -6C. But then again, I'm a renegade.

I wish all new buses were equipped with onboard fuel monitoring equipment accessible to the driver. Nothing changes behaviours  like the absence of ignorance. In my post titled "How Do We Change", I suggested introducing competition in the workplace, Imagine competing for a fuel efficiency award based on real data accessible on the dashboard of your bus?

Drivers, we all love the changes at OC Transpo these days. After a few years of kick, kick, kick... it feels like we are all part of the company again. The changes made have been welcomed by all, and the New Guy seems to be on our side on many things that matter to us. If you like that relationship, if you want to make this company a great place to work, if you want to help this company's image and yours... then give a little back.

All I'm asking for is one litre of diesel every fifteen minutes. Just the simple silence that accompanies a twist of the wrist. Not too much to ask really, but it would save millions.

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