Engines running? Park City police officers will not stand idly by
The Park City Police Department recently increased enforcement of City Hall’s prohibition of idling vehicles, resulting in a string of cases since the start of the stepped-up efforts in early December.
Phil Kirk, a police captain, said police officers have warned approximately 10 drivers since early December. City Hall’s parking-enforcement team is assisting.
Kirk said the efforts have centered on Main Street and Swede Alley, two locations where idling vehicles have long been seen. He said violators have included taxis and shuttles in the nighttime hours and delivery vehicles or personal vehicles of shoppers during the day. Kirk said most of the people have not been aware of the idling prohibition. There had not been a repeat offender since early December, he said.
"That’s where we get some complaints about it, the majority of complaints," Kirk said.
The police distribute a brochure to drivers seen idling the vehicle. The brochure includes the text of the City Hall prohibition and outlines the impacts of idling. It says idling vehicles release emissions, describing that there are a "wide array of health issues that have been found linked to vehicle emissions." The brochure also says someone can save money by avoiding idling.
"Idling a typical vehicle for longer than 10 seconds costs more than turning off and re-starting the engine," according to the brochure.
Park City leaders enacted a law in 2010 prohibiting idling in most circumstances. The law now limits idling to one minute and covers public property and other places open to public access. There are exemptions to protect the health and safety of people and animals inside, though. Other exemptions include when a running engine is needed to operate vehicle systems or when a defroster is in use. The law at one point allowed idling when the temperature outside dropped below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or rose to above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature exemption was later removed, leaving the health and safety provision.
The Police Department last week reported at least five idling cases either on Main Street or Swede Alley. Someone must receive three warnings prior to the Police Department issuing a ticket. A ticket could carry a $30 fine.
The idling prohibition is part of Park City’s broad environmental efforts, which center on a goal of reducing emissions. Park City leaders worry that a warming climate could someday threaten the ski industry that drives the community’s economy.
Mayor Jack Thomas and the Park City Council recently elevated the related issues of reducing carbon emissions and conserving energy to a critical priority for the municipal government. That decision is expected to eventually result in numerous policy changes at City Hall covering issues across municipal departments. Leaders want to reach a net-zero figure in carbon emissions in the city within a generation through a combination of reducing emissions and offsetting the emissions that cannot be eliminated.
The Historic Park City Alliance, an organization that represents businesses on Main Street or nearby streets, had not received complaints about the increased enforcement by the middle of the week. Alison Kuhlow-Butz, the executive director of the group, said she occasionally hears concerns from merchants about idling taxis or shuttles.
"You do breathe the exhaust as you’re walking up and down the street," Kuhlow-Butz said, adding, "Idling vehicles is something we see often on Main Street."
A transportation firm that operates between 150 and 200 vehicles during the ski season on behalf of upward of 25 companies said the police enforcement has not been noticeable yet. There are concerns nonetheless. Diania Turner, the owner of Fastaxi, said a car becomes cold inside when the engine is off, making it difficult for the driver. She described that fare-paying passengers do not like getting into a cold vehicle.
"How can we sit in a freezing taxi," she said. "I don’t think the police care what the taxi driver thinks. I don’t think the city cares."
She also said the idling prohibition also hinders drivers as they advertise the vehicle’s availability. If the engine is off, the driver must use electricity from the cigarette lighter instead of power from the engine to illuminate the taxi sign atop the vehicle, Turner said. That drains the battery, she said.
"It’s really hard to keep a taxi light working without the engine," Turner said.
City Hall has scheduled an event on Tuesday, May 21, designed for people who are contemplating a bid for elected office in the municipal campaign.