Cut School Bus Idling to Improve Air Quality, Save Tax Dollars

Bus and truck drivers who let their engines idle pollute your neighborhood. Get them to turn off the idle habit.

Idling buses waste tax dollars, pollute the air, and are hazardous to your health. Image: Glowimages/Getty Images

Getting bus and truck drivers to turn off their engines while they sit outside schools and stores can improve air quality in your neighborhood and, in the case of school buses, put your taxes to better use.

Why worry about idling vehicles?

Idling pollutes the air. Just one school bus dropping off and picking up kids at one school puts three pounds of pollution into the air per month. 

Fumes are deadly. Vehicle fumes contain significant levels of fine particulate matter that cause lung damage and aggravate allergies, asthma, and bronchitis, says Shirley Schantz, a nurse with the National Association of School Nurses.

It’s a waste of tax dollars.A typical school bus burns half a gallon of fuel if it idles for 30 minutes a day. That adds up to $180 per bus per school year when diesel is $4 a gallon.

Your campaign against bus idling

Organizing an anti-idling campaign is easy because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website has posted the materials, like posters and fact sheets, you’ll need.

It’s also pretty cheap, considering how much good idle-busting could do for neighborhood air quality. The biggest cost you’ll have is printing materials explaining why bus idling is dangerous. Brochures and fliers could run you $200 a year.

Wayne Michaud, director of Idle Free Vermont, started an idling-reduction campaign from scratch in Vermont in 2006 and spends 5 to 10 hours a week networking and campaigning to raise awareness and achieve reduced-idling legislation.

5 ways to put the kibosh on idling

School buses are a good first target in your anti-idling campaign.

  • 1. Seek support from existing school organizations like the PTA or PTO that have pull with the principal and the school board, as well as neighborhood associations and concerned neighbors.
  • 2. Organize a small working group within your school or PTA that can set an anti-bus idling policy, create marketing materials, and help enforce the policy.
  • 3. Keep the policy simple. For school buses, you could say buses have to be moving when the engine is on, turned off during loading, not restarted until it’s time to go, and only warmed up in the morning for as long as the manufacturer recommends (usually 5 minutes).
  • 4. Alert the media when your new policy starts. Ask them to cover it in the news, or write an op-ed piece or letter to the editor.
  • 5. Use social media to generate interest and get the word out about your campaign.

Once you’ve tackled school bus idling, you can move on to fight truck and bus idling elsewhere in your community. Just repeat the process you used at school, only this time you’ll work with local officials instead of school staff.