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City acts to curb idling vehicles New tracking system helps to reduce costs

Call it a crackdown on idle time.

Some residents have been complaining about city snow-fighting vehicles left parked and idling for long periods.

"I understand that they want to keep their trucks warm during their breaks, but this seems to be very wasteful and is damaging the air quality in our neighborhood," one Niagara District resident said in a phone message he left for City Hall staffers.

Moments after Mayor Byron W. Brown's accountability team received the complaint, members tapped a new high-tech tool to check things out for themselves. Global positioning system devices were recently installed in seven public works trucks.

A spur-of-the-moment check discovered one truck that had been idling for an hour on the West Side.

"I want a report by the end of the day," the mayor told officials as he watched the truck's data on a computer screen.

The worker was in a salt spreader, on call in case plowing crews needed help, Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said. But he added that the driver shouldn't have kept his truck running for an hour, noting it violates city policy and a state environmental law.

The unidentified worker will have a warning letter placed in his file and will be forced to take more training.

According to a federal environmental study, a truck left idling for half an hour uses one gallon of diesel fuel. It also causes wear and tear, City Corporation Counsel Alisa A. Lukasiewicz said.

Studies show that one hour of idle time causes engine wear that is equivalent to seven miles of driving.

"We will track this idle time," Brown said during Friday's CitiStat meeting.

Buffalo recently bought new trucks that automatically shut off after five minutes of idling.

But the city has dozens of older vehicles, said William C. Travis, the president of the union that represents Buffalo's blue-collar workers.

"The heating system in some of these trucks isn't very good, to say the least," Travis told a reporter in defense of drivers who let vehicles idle. "And there's more draft in these trucks than in your normal family car."

Travis said he couldn't comment on the truck that was left idling for an hour, because he didn't have details. But he said city officials and taxpayers should take into account the conditions that face the snow-fighting brigade.

"These guys are outside when most people are told to stay inside," Travis said.

GPS systems will soon be installed in more than 70 snow-fighting vehicles.

The computerized devices will track every move each vehicle makes. They also will alert a command center whenever trucks are idling for prolonged periods.

The technology will ease the tracking of plowing operations. It also will give supervisors another tool to make sure workers aren't abusing their breaks. Employees are entitled to an hourlong meal break and two 15-minute breaks per shift.

Brown said Friday's impromptu exercise demonstrates the progress the city is making in its quest to harness new technology.

"This is absolutely city government getting smarter," he said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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