In the 14 months since drivers in Madison could be ticketed for excessive idling, one citation has been issued.
But the main author of the ordinance that limits the time vehicles can remain parked and running says the measure is more about educating drivers — including city staff who use city-owned vehicles — than about punishment.
“I am certainly in favor of enforcement if people or bus companies or whoever don’t learn. If they ultimately don’t learn, then maybe enforcement is needed, but my preference is that they get it and stop idling,” said Ald. Ledell Zellers, 2nd District.
In September 2017, the City Council restricted idling to no more than five consecutive minutes — similar to restrictions in states and cities such as Maryland and New York City.
The measures are billed as a way to reduce the harmful health effects of car exhaust and its contribution to climate change.
The Madison ordinance provides several exemptions to the time limit, including when the temperature is below 20 degrees or above 90 degrees, when idling is necessary to operate equipment like a crane, during traffic congestion and “to prevent a health or safety emergency.” A first citation results in a $100 fine. A second violation within seven years costs $400, and third and subsequent citations bring fines of $600.
The sole citation came Sept. 4 against a Florida truck in the 6300 block of Raymond Road, said Julie Laundrie, public records custodian for the Madison Police Department.
“I’m pleased there has been one anyways, because I do know and I do support this, that (Madison police) want to educate and get compliance,” said Zellers.
Madison Police Capt. James Wheeler, who oversees traffic and parking enforcement for the police department, said enforcement of the ordinance is complaint-driven, and officers have been told to prioritize education and warnings over issuing citations.
But so far, complaints have been almost as sparse as citations. While complaints are not officially logged, Laundrie said in an email there is a “rough count of two.” Wheeler said he was aware of three complaints.
Zellers said she has talked to drivers of inter-city buses, mostly when they are idling as they wait for passengers outside Memorial Union, to let them know about the ordinance.
“It’s nice to have that tool just as an education kind of thing for drivers,” Zellers said.
Warnings or citations are sent to vehicle owners, but Madison employees are personally liable if caught idling too long in city-owned vehicles.
Cynthia Schuster, spokeswoman for the Madison Fire Department, said the ordinance’s exemptions apply to department vehicles, including ambulances that need to be left running to keep life-saving devices charged and fire engines that need to be left running to operate ladders and keep lights on to illuminate emergency scenes.
Crews, though, will turn off rigs in good weather when responding to less-serious calls, she said.
Metro Transit drivers and supervisors are regularly reminded of the ordinance, said Mick Rusch, spokesman for the agency, and new posters on the restriction were posted in Metro’s main facility on the Near East Side and its satellite garage in Middleton earlier this month.
He said 93 percent of Metro buses are certified as clean-idling, meaning their engines meet idle-reduction regulations set by a California board. Only 15 buses are not clean-idle vehicles, and they are expected to be retired next summer, he said.
“The reduction of greenhouse gases is a major goal of our entire operation at Metro Transit,” Rusch said. “Not only do we keep this ordinance top of mind, we are working to eliminate emissions to the highest extent possible through the addition of clean-energy vehicles throughout our fleet.”