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City Councilors Hope to Reduce Bus Idling

It's illegal for any vehicle to idle for more than five minutes in Boston, but it's a little-enforced law. Some city councilors want to change that.

Over the years, many Charlestown residents have complained to the Neighborhood Council, the mayor's office and the police department about the number of , just outside the Navy Yard. They spew fumes, pollute the air, but they idle there for lack of parking near the neighborhood's tourist sites. Still, it's technically illegal. 

Law prohibits vehicles from idling anywhere in the city for 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. "Have 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."

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 can 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 atenvironment@cityofboston.gov or the Mayor's Hotline at 617-635-4500.

Joseph October 25, 2011 at 07:06 PM
"...just outside the Navy Yard." I see these buses almost daily during my after work jog. Parked directly next to the BPD. No tickets? Go figure. "...Glascock explained that the attendants' union would have to agree to adding that to their contract." I'm in too good of a mood this week not hate on the resident sticker patrol and their union, but it always makes me laugh to see them patrol for resident stickers...while DRIVING their cars.
carol adolph October 26, 2011 at 01:27 PM
My office is at a bus stop on Main Street. The problem is not so much the busses but the delivery trucks that pull up there all day long and leave the motors running. Many drivers have refused to turn off the engines even when asked politely. It drives us crazy!

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