Should cities pay residents to spot idling offenders?
Traffic management Urban mobility

Should cities pay residents to spot idling offenders?

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Have you ever been infuriated by drivers who leave their engine running while popping to the shop or doing the school run? The think tank of the UK, Bright Blue, proposed an initiative to avert this. This initiative could soon offer the public a way to air their grievances-and earn some cash on the side.

A new report on air pollution from the Bright Blue group suggested that cities with a Clean Air Zone introduce a ‘citizen based reporting scheme’. This scheme allows members of the public to report polluters to the local council by taking videos of vehicles that have been idling for at least a minute. The citizens would then be rewarded for their vigilance with a 25 percent cut of any fine paid by the offending motorist.

This proposal may sound odd to some, but it’s been operating in New York since December 2017. Some entrepreneurial and environmentally aware New Yorkers have already collected thousands of dollars through this scheme. One concerned member of the public, mortgage consultant George Pakenham, claims to have earned just under US$13,000 by monitoring motorists—and even directed a film about the threat of idling.

In 2006 he discovered an old law from 1971 which was against idling in New York City. This law states that it is forbidden for stationary trucks and busses to keep their engines running for more than 3 minutes and outside of schools for more than one minute. After becoming frustrated with a lack of enforcement he decided to assume the role of a self-styled “eco-vigilante. “In New York the police don’t really care about it [idling], it’s not a priority,” he adds. “So who is better placed to enforce the law than the people who actually care about it?”

Rewards for vigilant members of the public are far greater stateside. New York’s fines for idling are sky high compared with these in the UK. In the UK you pay £20 to £80 and in New York it costs you US$350 to US$2,000.

According to Pakenham, a small number New Yorkers feel as ‘full time’ citizen reporters, adding that he sees no reason why someone dedicating a full working week to the pursuit could not earn US$100,000 per year. The number of summonses issued for violating the city’s anti-idling law increased to 1,038 last year–up from just 24 in 2017.

Authorities in UK tend to take a softer approach when it comes to laws against idling. Drivers will first be warned, so they have the opportunity to improve. Those ignoring the warning and continue to idle will be fined. Many local authorities, including the City of London, Camden and Croydon, did not issue any fines for idling last year.

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