The Right Way To Run Ottawa City Hall: BENN




How do mature organizations solve problems?

First, they identify the problem, with a specific metric. For example, Ottawa estimates that drivers of AA vehicles allow their vehicles to idle needlessly, thus producing an estimated .B tonnes of greenhouse gases per winter day.

Note the specificity of seasonal variance, as it is more likely that vehicles will be left idling for more than a minute in the winter months than during the spring, summer or autumn, what with having to get the frost or ice off the windshield to roll on down the roadway safely. Especially so in the morning when there are school bound children on residential streets.

Then the organization creates a solution that will actually address the problem. For example, by decreasing the permitted length of time that a vehicle is allowed to idle from not more than three minutes to not more than one minute, the city expects to see a reduction of AA% of vehicles idling needlessly, with a consequent B% reduction of greenhouse gases produced per winter day.

In order to successfully implement this solution, the city must incur the following costs:

  • hire CCCC more bylaw officers, at a fully loaded cost of $CCCCC per year;
  • purchase DDDD more vehicles for the incremental bylaw officers at a cost of $DDDDDD, which will need to be replaced every E years;
  • spend $FFFF more in vehicle fuel or electricity to charge the incremental vehicles;
  • spend $GGGG more in annual vehicle maintenance.

These costs will be offset by an expected $HHH in incremental fines. Parenthetical aside, does $HHH exceed the sum of the costs?  Should it matter?

If the solution is successful, the city will need to continue to retain the services of the incremental bylaw officers, maintain the larger fleet of vehicles and incremental operating costs, whilst seeing the incremental fines diminish by HH% per year. If the city does not maintain this heightened level of enforcement, then there is a JJ% probability that the aforementioned anti-social behaviour will return.

Not proceeding with this solution will result in … no material increase in the existing problem. In fact, with the expected change in market share of internal combustion-engine to battery electric vehicles, the problem is expected to diminish over time.

Note that every one of these stages requires a number, a metric, something other than “well it’s obvious that there is a problem.”

A prudent councillor might ask, in a public forum so as to demonstrate the openness, transparency and accountability of the governing body of which they are a member, whether staff members have any metrics to which they can refer. Any vote on the matter should be deferred until the metrics are produced.

At least, that is what a mature organization would do.

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.


Get Back To Basics Ottawa City Hall: PATTON

Idling: Will Municipality Clean Up Its Act? READER

New Car Idling Law Solves Nothing: WHOPPER WATCH

The Dollars And Cents Of Common Sense: BENN

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10 Responses

  1. Bruce says:

    A question. Do the present bylaw officers turn off their vehicles when attending infractions and will they do so to enforce the “Idle Bylaw”?, especially in winter.

  2. Angela Keller-Herzog says:

    Hi Ron,
    No disagreement with your approach, but could we add a few metrics to your framework please? The first objective of anti-idling is to improve air quality, especially particulates, translating into major health benefits/reduced costs. There is a lot of new science around that. That should be monitored and measured. Including near suspected trouble spots like beside school yards during pick-up times and for diesel trucks.
    There are also reductions in fuel costs for the vehicle and fleet owners. As many have pointed out, the City has various fleets and contractors with hundreds of vehicles. A directive memo and/or contract clause for all of them to respect a tightened by-law would result in fuel cost saving XXX plus health cost saving YYY.

  3. Theresa says:

    Angela, I fully agree with your suggestion. Perhaps another metric would be to determine, after two years, say, of properly implemented anti-idling bylaws, the reduction in cardi-pulmonary and respiratory hospital admissions and related chronic illness. We don’t take air quality seriously enough — note this excerpt from the Lancet: In 2019, pollution was responsible for approximately 9·0 million premature deaths (globally). Air pollution (both household and ambient air pollution) remains responsible for the greatest number of deaths, causing 6·7 million deaths in 2019.

  4. Andrew says:

    Hi Ron,
    You said “as it is more likely that vehicles will be left idling for more than a minute in the winter months than during the spring, summer or autumn, what with having to get the frost or ice off the windshield ” I am trying to understand where this is coming from when the bylaw specifically addresses the issue with a restricted temperature range:

    The City of Ottawa’s Idling Control (By-law No. 2007-266) prohibits idling for more than three minutes in any 60-minute period when the outdoor temperature is between 5 °C and 27 °C.

    It is disappointing so many angry idlers seem to not be aware their freezing or Cooking cars are exempt. As well, with 15% of the new car sales being electric, (and soon to be 50%), this is a non issue in only a few years.

    The largest benefit of this is educating drivers of the effect they have on others. Enforcement should remain minimal. Publicity is the best method in this effort to make people aware on temperate days turn the car off. I hope a major contributor to the Bulldog can illuminate the above to be benefit of all instead of proposing moving away from the fact that all other major cities that already have this type of bylaw.

    The Montreal borough of Outremont is cracking down on drivers who leave their cars idling while parked. Tickets of $150 could potentially be issued if gas-powered vehicles are running for more than 10 seconds.

    Perhaps the bylaw is preparing us for the big world outside Ottawa?

  5. Ron Benn says:

    Andrew, thank you for pointing out the temperature range restriction in the by-law. It represents a reasonable approach to the challenges people face during the seasonal “extremes”. It should reduce dramatically the costs of hiring and outfitting a significant number of by-law officers to patrol residential streets in the mornings, and employee parking lots at the end of the day.

    As for what other jurisdictions do, it is important for city staff to reach out to them. To understand what works, what doesn’t work. To learn from others relevant experience, and adapt our practices to the lessons offered by others. The key word being relevant. Outremont matters. Copenhagen, less so. Mumbai, not at all.

  6. Ken Gray says:


    You’re asking for another metric from a CPA?



  7. Ken Gray says:


    What will this bylaw accomplish?

    A lot of talking, three charges and the same amount of idling.

    Just because they write a law doesn’t mean people will follow it.

    Frankly, most people don’t care beyond spouting the right words … sometimes.



  8. Ron Benn says:

    Angela, the key elements are knowing, as contrasted with assuming, the existing metrics. What are the current, relevant air quality measurements? What are the levels that the relevant professional groups consider to be the danger point? If the current measurements are materially above the danger point, then what actions can be taken that will (not just conceptually) result in a reduction below the danger point? Do these measurements vary by time of day, season? The range matters. As the city found out with the Orgaworld fiasco, annual capacity is irrelevant when dealing with seasonal (spring and fall clean ups) spikes in volume.

    Once these metrics are known, then develop a solution, with the necessary details like cost, time frame to implement, likely outcomes. If the most likely outcome isn’t success … then why is staff recommending the action plan?

    Circling back to the theme of my column. Does the city have the relevant metrics? If so, why haven’t they shared them with the public? Is it because the metrics don’t support the perceived problem and proposed solution? Keep in mind that perceptions matter, and there is a widely held perception in this city that city hall has a lot of ground to recover in order to restore its credibility (see extensive findings per the LRT Commission report, see Lansdowne 2.0 selective disclosure, see … well you get my drift).

  9. sisco.farraro says:

    Hello Ron. What is really needed at city hall, as you have pointed out, is a methodology to solve problems. With over 20 councillors and a mayor politely arguing amongst themselves, each ensuring their self interests are addressed, it’s no wonder problems don’t get resolved in this city. Over time I have developed a problem solving methodology that is simple and effective. The first 10 steps are 1) clearly state the problem to be resolved, 2) state the desired result, 3) determine the core issue causing the problem, i.e. the root cause, 4) identify and understand all the parameters (eg. a $5M solution is not going to be adopted if the budget is $100K), 5) list all potential solutions, 6) list the pros and cons for each solution identified in the previous step, 7) choose the best 3 solutions, 8) meet with the group who is experiencing the problem, explain how you arrived at this point, and allow them to provide feedback, 9) choose the best of the 3 solutions or develop a hybrid which includes enduser feedback, 10) go back to step 5 if necessary. This is how the process begins. Problem resolution is not a process that takes place in a day or two. Unfortunately, city hall does not seem to have a process that everyone follows. Whether they follow your process or mine is not relevant. What is important is that they develop a process that all departments utilize and ensure someone is accountable for the end results. Many people will say “we don’t have time to do all that!” My response to that statement is “You don’t have time to NOT do all that”. As city hall has proven, bad solutions, i.e. trial and error solutions, take a lot of time and cost a lot of money to fix. ‘Nuff said.

  10. Ron Benn says:

    Sisco, I whole heartedly agree with you comment. The key take away is your statement that ‘Many people will say “we don’t have time to do all that!” My response to that statement is “You don’t have time to NOT do all that”.’ It is a variant of what I have oft stated here on the Bulldog. First you have to be effective, which is doing the right thing. Being efficient is doing the right thing with fewer resources. Doing the wrong thing is a waste of resources.

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