Idle-free bylaw debate focuses on school buses

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Allowing city buses to idle but not school buses isn’t right: Hughes

The city’s proposed idle-free bylaw has made it through second reading narrowly after debate focused on exempting school buses.

The proposed legislation has passed second reading and will come back at a later council meeting for third reading after councillors expressed concerns with possible double standards and lack of public consultation with the original motion.

Coun. Sheena Hughes raised concerns about the current version of the proposed bylaw, which would give exemptions to city buses but not to school buses.

The city’s manager of planning and customer service for transit services, Will Steblyk, said they suggested giving city buses an exemption so passengers would be comfortable in cold weather.

Hughes said she was really uncomfortable allowing city buses to idle to warm up and not allowing school buses with small children the same courtesy.

“The double standard is really difficult to justify to the public,” Hughes said, adding the city is trying to encourage kids to use the bus and if they are cold, parents are more likely to drive their kids to school.

The suggested changes to St. Albert’s idle-free bylaw would make idling for more than three minutes an offence regardless of the weather for all non-exempt vehicles.

The existing idle-free bylaw, which originally passed in 2008, prohibits people from idling more than three minutes in a 30-minute period unless the temperature outside is above 30 C or below zero, with exemptions for certain types of vehicles.

City council’s governance, priorities and finance committee met Sept. 4 to vote in favour of recommending the removal of that temperature exemption. It also voted to recommend simplifying the time allotment to just three minutes flat.

The issue came to council on Monday for further debate on the issue.

Hughes put forward a motion to exempt all school buses from the bylaw when the temperature drops below 0 C, but failed with councillors Jacquie Hansen, Ray Watkins and Cathy Heron voting against the motion. With Coun. Wes Brodhead not in attendance, a tie vote failed the motion.

Hansen voted against the motion because she said kids are engaged and interested in tackling climate change and she wants to see the city move in the right direction. The bylaw may be difficult to enforce but even a symbolic change is important, she added.

“If you ask most kids, they don’t want to see their moms and dads idling, they don’t want to see buses idling,” Hansen said, adding the bylaw is an opportunity to be a leader when tackling climate change.

Coun. Ken MacKay said he wanted more information before making a decision, and proposed a postponement of the bylaw until consultations could be done with bus companies and school boards, as they had not been directly consulted in the decision-making process for the original bylaw.

“If we are going to have a bylaw, let’s have it based on something other than the term symbolic,” MacKay said, adding there was no reason to rush the decision.

MacKay’s motion failed with Hansen, Heron and Watkins voting against it.

In the end, the proposed bylaw change passed second reading, gathering the support of MacKay, Heron, Watkins and Hansen.

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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.