Home > News Room > TEA in the News > TTC buses idle ... and idle in the cold

TTC buses idle ... and idle in the cold

By BRYN WEESE and IAN ROBERTSON, Toronto Sun

January 31, 2010

The TTC doesn’t only abuse riders.

Rumbled recently by controversy over snoozing ticket collectors and drivers hopping out for coffee and to use bank machines, the TTC has been attacking the environment by idling hundreds of buses day and night in cold weather at two yards.

Idling buses are left to spew harmful diesel fumes because expensive Swedish technology installed nearly a decade ago has never worked properly.

The UWE system was supposed to allow buses to keep warm during winter, using hot glycol.

The anti-freeze is heated within the Eglinton and Birchmount garages, then pumped to the parked coaches through overhead pipes. It is then reheated and recycled.

“The system does work, but in the extreme cold, it’s not as effective,” TTC spokesman Brad Ross conceded Sunday. Especially in cold snaps such as the GTA experienced since last week, “diesel engines are not fans of the system.”

Problems arose immediately.

“It was purchased to save a huge whack of money” and avoided building more indoor storage, Councillor Howard Moscoe, the TTC’s 1998-2000 chairman, said Sunday. “At the time it looked like the best thing to do.”

Ross said building enclosures for buses at the Eglinton and Birchmount yards “would cost millions.”

He knows of no plans to construct anything at the two yards like the 200-bus St. Dennis garage opened over a year ago.

In 2003, the first winter the UWE was used, a $1.3-million “circulation pressure” glitch meant over 200 buses ran nightly at Eglinton for nearly a month during a cold snap.

For years, TTC commissioners were told of the problems and did nothing.

In 2004, transit officials admitted the benefits of storing buses outside — Eglinton has 288 — have “not been as expected,” and were “less than favourable.”

Particularly, washed vehicles get coated in ice and snow, raising labour costs as the vehicles must be scraped clean before hitting the road.

Also, during cold snaps, buses “have to be idled to ensure they will start,” reads a staff report, which added idling “leads to extra fuel costs, increased maintenance, as well as emission concerns.”

Two years later, Chief General Manager Gary Webster wrote the system works “for all but the coldest days,” adding it isn’t effective below -15C. “When the system is needed most, it fails.”

The UWE is also costly to maintain.

For example, in 2005, the TTC spent 1,219 hours doing UWE repairs on the Eglinton fleet.

The TTC buys 75 million litres of bio-diesel — a mixture of vegetable oil and diesel fuel — annually.

The current mixture is less polluting and crews “don’t run them all night,” Ross said. “Five or six buses would run, then be shut down, then restarted.”

But on mid-day Friday, The Sun observed exhausts from about 100 buses at Eglinton’s yard.

Around 1 a.m. Saturday, up to 40 were idling.

Without warming, they can’t be sent out for morning rush-hour, when almost the entire fleet is on the streets, Ross said.

Buses at other yards remain indoors, where they start more easily and can be warmed faster, he said.

Jamie Kirkpatrick, a Toronto Environmental Alliance organizer, said having hundreds of repeatedly idling buses “goes against a lot of the arguments that the TTC makes about being the better way for the environment.

“I’m sure it will frustrate a lot of riders to learn that we’re wasting diesel fuel and polluting the environment,” said Kirkpatrick, who monitors the TTC.

But it’s not just greenhouse gases.

Toronto Medical Officer of Health David McKeown recently warned of the adverse effects of diesel exhaust on humans.

While reporting on adverse affects of fumes from trains along the Georgetown rail corridor, McKeown said diesel exhaust was linked to “some respiratory illnesses like asthma.

“It’s been associated with cancer,” McKeown said, adding diesel fumes are “part of the air polution problem in Toronto ... responsible for 600 premature deaths every year and 1,700 hospitalizations.”

Some Scarborough residents are particularly worried, since the Birchmount yard is surrounded by a residential community. A new sound barrier was recently built on the north side, but only shrubs stand between idling buses and new west-side homes.

“We can’t be allowed to disturb the neighbourhood,” Moscoe said. “I’m sure the TTC will be taking remedial steps.”

But with rules against building homes close to railroad tracks or highways, he questioned why city planners allowed the newest dwellings “right up against the TTC yard.”

TTC and city vehicles are exempted from Toronto’s 12-year-old anti-idling bylaw. Ordinary drivers who idle longer than three minutes could be dinged for $125.

During a deep freeze, however, motorists are fine-free when vehicle interior temperatures dip below minus 5C.

Toronto’s Public Health board was poised last November to adopt sweeping changes to anti-idling rules — including cutting temperature exemptions — but instead sought more background.

If approved, drivers could get fined for idling after one minute.

TTC Chairman Adam Giambrone did not reply to interview requests.

bryn.weese@sunmedia.ca

As published at: http://www.torontosun.com/news/torontoandgta/2010/01/31/12688406.html