Katie O’Callaghan never imagined that her graduate studies in community and regional planning would involve police car chases.
“It was exciting,” she says of riding in a squad car alongside officers. But the University of British Columbia student wasn’t in it for the action. Rather, she was interested in when police officers idled their vehicles.
“Their cars are like a mobile office,” O’Callaghan explains. “They need to idle to defog their windows and power their computers.”
O’Callaghan is a UBC Greenest City Scholar. This innovative summer internship program sponsors 10 UBC graduate students to work on sustainability projects with the City of Vancouver. The students are partnered with a city team and a mentor to investigate and implement projects identified under Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan. The plan identifies 10 long-term goals, supported by a set of measurable and attainable targets, for Vancouver to become the greenest city in the world by 2020.
In cooperation with the Vancouver Police Department, O’Callaghan studied the car-idling behaviour of VPD patrol officers. A previous study had shown that each patrol officer generates approximately 3.95 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The VPD aims to reduce the emissions and their impacts, as well as the fuel costs.
When O’Callaghan started her internship last April, the VPD was piloting the use of anti-idle technology for fleet vehicles, but they wanted to assess officers’ behaviour as well. A team of volunteers led by O’Callaghan rode along with VPD officers on 16 shifts to observe their attitudes toward idling. The goal: to find out under what circumstances officers leave their engines running and for how long.
“The VPD is pretty progressive in their sense of sustainability,” O’Callaghan says. But while the officers are concerned about the environment, their first priority is safety.
For example, she discovered police officers prefer idling in dodgy areas, where a quick response time may be required. “Their cars are like a mobile office,” she explains. “They need to idle to defog their windows and power their computers.”
Her study found that officers most often idle for less than five minutes. In those cases, more education about idling could help reduce emissions. For example, many of the officers overestimated the time they needed to charge their computers through idling. “There’s a lot you can do with an awareness campaign,” O’Callaghan says.
“Her study was very interesting,” says Rob Rothwell, fleet manager of the VPD. “It very clearly showed that there is an opportunity to manage idling from both a technological perspective and also through a cultural shift within the organization.” Along with rolling out the new technology, the VPD is planning an educational video to trigger more awareness. “I’m quite confident that over the next year or two we’ll see a significant reduction in idle time.”
O’Callaghan speaks highly of the Greenest City Scholar program. “It shows that UBC students are engaging in the community,” she says, pleased with the opportunity to connect sustainability research with practical solutions. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
The Greenest City Scholars Program is open to individuals from all academic disciplines. For more information, see www.sustain.ubc.ca