Idle time is causing harm to your wallet and the planet – here’s how to reduce it.

In the quest for more sustainable and cost-efficient transportation, addressing idle time emerges as a critical, yet often overlooked, strategy. Idle time, the period when vehicles run their engines while not in motion, significantly contributes to unnecessary fuel consumption and increased emissions. This article looks at the impacts of idle time and explores strategies for minimizing it, thereby reducing emissions and lowering operational costs.

The environmental harm of idle time

Large diesel transit vehicles, such as buses and trucks, are important parts of urban infrastructure, supporting commerce and facilitating mobility. In many cases, idling is unavoidable, for instance when stuck in traffic, or for buses, when stopping at bus stops to pick up or drop off passengers.

However, when vehicles idle unnecessarily, they can emit even more greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter, than they need to. These emissions contribute to air pollution, posing health risks to the population and degrading environmental quality.

For a lot of transport companies, the amount of emissions they produce is a key statistic that they measure, which means that idling unnecessarily negatively impacts their results.

The economic harm of idle time

In addition to environmental concerns, idle time represents a significant economic burden for transport companies. Fuel is, for a lot of transport companies, the largest cost that they face in their operations, and considering that most transport companies don’t have big margins, wasting fuel is a problem. With rising costs of diesel, finding ways to reduce costs is also crucial.

For a 50-vehicle fleet, even 5 minutes of idling a day per vehicle is a significant cost. For many transport companies, cutting down idle time means a large amount of financial savings, money that could be used in other areas of operation.

What do the statistics say?

We compared two bus companies in Norway from the start of the year (January) to the end of the year (December). We wanted to understand how much idling is occurring in these vehicles, and what, if any, difference the seasons make.

Bus company 1, with 8 divisions, drove a total of 13,806,291 km throughout the whole year. Within these journeys, the sum of idle time (above two minutes) was 51,312 hours. Bus company 2, with 26 divisions, drove a total of 31,627,318 km throughout the whole year. Within these journeys, the sum of idle time (above two minutes) was 147,934 hours.

But how do these statistics compare throughout the year?

For bus company 1, the spring and summer months had almost half the number of hours idling (7,319 in Q2 and 7,957 hours in Q3) as the winter months of January, February, and March (14,841 hours).

Based on this, we can see that in the warmer months during Spring and summer, idling was significantly lower than in the winter months. This could be due to heating the buses before, and during a journey in the cold Norwegian climate.

For bus company 2, the summer months of July, August and September (19,374 hours) were around 20,000 hours less than the winter months of January, February and March (39,384 hours). Based on this, we can also see that the warmer months involve a lot less idling than the winter months.

How can idle time be reduced?

  1. Technological solutions

Real-time tracking and fleet-management systems like Tenix Bus can monitor vehicle operations, identify where idling occurs and enable operators to take corrective action. The operators will be able to identify exact locations and routes where idling occurs a lot, which drivers frequently idle, and their average idling time.

By gaining this overview, it takes away any manual idle tracking methods, and allows you to keep all the information and data in one place for easy analysis.

2. Policy and Regulation

Implementing and enforcing idle reduction regulations can compel operators to minimize idle time. Several cities and countries have introduced fines for exceeding allowed idle times, but this is predominantly for passenger vehicles, rather than large transit vehicles. With a focus on more sustainable transportation, a lot of transport companies now have to report on their emissions, creating an incentive to lower idle time and wasted emissions.

3. Behavioral Changes

Educating drivers about the impacts of idling and strategies for reducing idle time can lead to significant improvements.
By combining this step with number 1, you can reinforce your guidance with data. For instance, perhaps one driver sits with the engine on in the depot for a long time before starting their route, and you can see this in the data. The driver could be shown this and advised to switch on the engine only when they’re about to start driving. Simple changes to behavior can have a huge impact.

Reducing idle time in large transit vehicles is a crucial step towards achieving greener, more efficient transportation. Through a combination of technology, policy, and behavioral changes, it is possible to significantly cut emissions and lower operational costs. As cities continue to grow and seek sustainable solutions, addressing idle time offers a clear path to a cleaner, more cost-effective future.


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