When Bob Stanton, fleet management director for Polk County, Fla., piloted a GPS tracking system three years ago, he learned that the county’s vehicle idling rates were less than ideal. “Many folks were surprised by the amount of idling represented just on 10 test vehicles,” he said.

As gas prices rose, Stanton began to consider initiating an idling program that would span the entire county. Today, the program affects users of county vehicles and equipment, more than 2,000 pieces in total.

Is Idling Justifiable?
To promote the program, which encourages drivers to turn off their engines when not in use, Stanton sends an idle history report via e-mail to each division director on a monthly basis. “If the results are positive, I mention that in the e-mail. If the results are worse or need attention in a certain area, I mention that too,” he said. “My correspondence isn’t judgmental; the manager must determine whether, in their specific application, if the idling amount was justified or requires further study.”

After all, in some cases, such as an ambulance on an accident scene or a transit bus with passengers aboard, idling is justifiable.

Raising Awareness
In order to discourage idling even outside a manager’s influence, Polk County has also begun posting signs in parking lots of county buildings and facilities. “The true benefit of the ‘No Idle’ signs is to elevate the level of awareness among our entire staff to remind them to turn off their vehicles wherever they are throughout our county,” Stanton said.

By raising the level of idling awareness among vehicle operators and managers alike, Stanton said he hopes management will more closely study the idling practices of staff, therefore reducing fuel costs.“Many of our managers have taken proactive steps to ascertain why so much idling is occurring and making their own suggestions on how to curb the practice.” Nonetheless, challenges still exist.

Stanton says the biggest challenge is that drivers who leave their vehicles idling often don’t realize it. There’s also the belief that starting and stopping the engine frequently uses more gas or causes additional wear and tear on the vehicle. “That’s old-school thinking,” Stanton said. “With today’s fuel injection systems, starting systems are more efficient and reliable and don’t require the amount of fuel previously required to start an engine.”

Keeping Your Cool
And what about those drivers who’d like to stay cool? Stanton says, particularly in Florida, heat is in fact a challenge. The county certainly wants to reduce fuel costs, but not at the expense of drivers.“Many of our employees’ offices are the cabs of their trucks,” Stanton said. “By installing ‘hot spots’ throughout the county, we hope employees will consider leaving their vehicles and doing their paperwork inside an air conditioned, nearby county facility or restaurant, rather than sitting in their vehicles with engines running.”

Though still in the early stages, the program is already improving the county’s bottom line without much effort. “We feel that reducing the practice of idling, i.e. turning off the engine, is the simplest and easiest way an employee can reduce fuel costs and save taxpayers’ money,” Stanton said.

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