Fume doom: Manhattan lawmaker targets idling vehicles with higher penalties


A City Council member from Manhattan wants idling bus and truck drivers to cough up more money for breaking the law.

The Committee for Environmental Protection held an oversight hearing on Thursday on the city’s air quality and its effect on public health. Discussion included Councilwoman Julie Menin’s anti-idling bill, which aims to increase fines imposed on bus and truck drivers who violate the anti-idling provision of the city’s air pollution control code — a practice long denounced by environmental activists.

The new law, which has received support from 38 City Council members, would increase violation penalties from a flat $350 per violation to a range of $1,000 to $2,000 for first-time offenders. From there, violations penalties would only go up, depending on the number of offenses. (Second-time offenders would owe between $2,000 and $4,000. For three or more violations, the range would be $3,000 to $6,000.)

In an interview with Gothamist, Menin said the current penalty is too low to motivate enough drivers to consistently obey the law.

“Right now, we’ve got a problem where there’s a single-rate of $350 dollars for violators, and the current law is not taking into account repeat offenses,” said Menin, who represents a section of the Upper East Side. “So we have corporate actors like Amazon and ConEd that are continuing to flout the law, and the fine is basically $350. So they’re viewing it as a cost of doing business, and yet they’re clogging up the streets with the idling.”

She added, “We need to toughen the penalties to send a loud and clear message to these corporations that they cannot continue to idle on our city streets.”

Representatives for Amazon and ConEd did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Menin said New York City should be more in line with other major cities like Washington, D.C., where idling fines start at $1,000 and double for subsequent violations, up to $8,000.

Current regulations in the city air pollution control code, which aims to improve air quality, forbid vehicles from idling for more than three minutes. Near schools, that time is reduced to one minute.

Emissions from idling gas and motor vehicles are known contributors to health-related impacts. Bad air quality also disproportionately affects low income neighborhoods, as well as Black and Latino communities.

According to the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, New York City has one of the highest rates of hospitalizations and deaths due to asthma in children and young adults in the country, with Black and Latino patients accounting for more than 80% of cases. According to an NYC Health study released last year, children in the Bronx are disproportionately affected, with higher rates of asthma related emergency department visits compared to all other boroughs.

Mike Seilback, national assistant vice president of public policy at the American Lung Association said his organization was behind the legislation in order to advocate for those who experience disproportionately damaging effects from air pollution.

“For decades, the Lung Association has worked with the Council to improve the air that New Yorkers breathe,” Seilback said. “While we have made substantial progress, we still have a long way to go. The Lung Association’s State of the Air report found that New York City continues to have failing air quality and ranks the New York City Metro Area among the top 25 metro areas with the most polluted air.”


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