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Anti-Idling Laws Rarely Enforced in Boston

Idling causes pollution that may affect the health of all residents. Diesel fumes are particularly bad for residents with asthma.

Bank trucks and ambulances make a habit out of idling right outside Michael Pavone's . The fumes can launch asthma attacks for the longtime JP businessman.

With characteristic dry humor, Pavone says it "only took four times," for him to get one driver to stop.

"I've got asthma. You've got diesel," he recalls telling the guy.

Law prohibits idling more than five minutes. But it may be among the least-enforced laws in Boston. A little-known city board is primarily responsible for enforcement. In the last six weeks, the Air Pollution Control Commission has issued two tickets city-wide, said Bryan Glascock, commissioner of the city's Environment Department.

Glascock testified Monday night at a City Council hearing on how to ratchet up enforcement of the anti-idling laws. The hearing was called by At-Large City Councilor Felix Arroyo and District 1 City Councilor Sal LaMattina, both of whom have asthma themselves.

"A law that's not enforced is really no law at all," said Arroyo, who lives in JP. "Having clean breathing air is important to everyone in this city."

Part of the problem is that only a handful of people are tasked with ticketing. It's mostly up to three employees at the Air Pollution Control Commission. Those city employees ticket under the Code of Mass. Regulations, and the fines can be steep: $1,000 for the first documented violation. Fines can rise to more than $25,000, Glascock said.

There's a different law that allows police to ticket for idling, with fines of up to $500 per violation. Glascock said he is in discussion with the Police Department to get them to possibly put more resources toward enforcing the idling law.

One seemingly common-sense way to ticket idling vehicles would be to deputize parking enforcement officers to do so. When Arroyo suggested that as a possible solution, Glascock explained that the attendants' union would have to agree to adding that to their contract.

At Monday's City Council hearing, most people in the audience of 15 were residents of the Leather District come to underline their chronic problem with idling tour buses.

"I have lived in eight neighborhoods of this city," said Sylvia Blumenthal of Beach Street, "and I have never seen such as army of buses. The sound is horrific and the smell is disgusting."

Not all tour bus companies and commercial trucks are bad guys. Patty Carmichael, who also works at the dry cleaner on Centre Street across from the Post Office, and Pavone report that FedEx and UPS drivers get good marks for shutting off their engines while parked outside.

Pavone worked with Arroyo to get an anti-idling sign. The sign has been up for two months.

Arroyo and LaMattina say they plan to keep pushing for more enforcement of anti-idling laws.

How to report idling violations

So what should a resident do if they have a problem with idling vehicles? Glascock recommends using the city's Citizen Connect smart phone app to snap a photo of the offending vehicle, noting the location and time. While tickets cannot be written off Citizen Connect reports, he said, they can contact the business involved and speak to them.

Just after leaving the meeting, a Leather District resident took Glascock's advice and snapped this photo of an idling bus. Vehicles idling more than five minutes may also be reported via email at environment@cityofboston.gov or the Mayor's Hotline at 617-635-4500.

tony gigliari February 28, 2013 at 07:58 AM
I just found out about anti-idling laws today. So in honor of my new-found discovery, I will be leaving my car on all night.

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