Can you can the car?

by Theresa Peluso


In my November column it was evident, in comparing our carbon reduction initiatives with the Town of Perth’s, that our municipality has made significant strides in lowering its total emissions. Perth has a great reputation for being green, but I think our own efforts are considerable.

One area where we have a unique challenge, compared with Perth, is transportation. As you know, Mississippi Mills is located about 30 kilometres southwest of a major urban centre, Ottawa, where many residents work and shop. Out of a population of approximately 12,400, approximately 5,000 live in Almonte, 2,000 in Pakenham, and the remainder are dispersed over a total area of 520 km2 interlaced with 400 km of municipal roads. About 8,700 residents are of working age. A recipe for really, really high carbon emissions. When you consider that transportation accounts for a quarter of the total carbon emissions produced in Canada, it’s extremely important to tackle this problem with all the means at our disposal.

What have we got going for us? First of all, we have thousands of hectares of forests providing a carbon sink for emissions (there are 183,575 hectares (453,624 acres) of forested area in Lanark County (according to the Lanark Stewardship Council, so I estimate roughly one-sixth of that is situated in our municipality). The Town of Mississippi Mills are now designing an Active Transportation Plan to accommodate the needs of cyclists and pedestrians, as well as cars. We have an enthusiastic bicyle-promotion group, headed by Jeff Mills, who are working to make cycling an activity that appeals to all ages, for utilitarian and recreational purposes. (Of course, cycling also provides the invaluable bonuses of physical fitness and well-being, not to mention the friendships you strike up when you cycle as a group.) I’m sure many Millstone readers participate in the popular annual Bicycle Month, which takes place in June. We also have Almonte Bicycle Works, a full-service bike shop, where you can get parts for your bicycle that aren’t available elsewhere (personal testimonial!). As an alternative to driving your car into Ottawa, there’s one bus operated by Transport Thom on Monday to Friday inclusive, which arrives in Pakenham at 5:40 a.m., then stops in Almonte and Carleton Place before continuing on to downtown Ottawa where it makes six stops before ending its route at Place du Portage in Gatineau at 7:15 a.m. The return bus leaves Place du Portage at 3:30 p.m., retraces its morning route in reverse, and ends up in Pakenham at 5:30 p.m. People for whom the bus time or route is not suitable, have the option of driving to Carp Road and using the park-and-ride there before boarding an OC Transpo bus. There are also park-and-rides on Highway 49 at Upper Dwyer Hill Road, Panmure Road (both near the access/exit ramp to Highway 417), and Cemetery Side Road/Appleton Side Road). Offers and requests for carpooling (also known as ridesharing) can be found on Kijiji, or on Rideshare Almonte on Facebook (started by Jill McCubbin, one of our newly elected Councillors).

We can reduce our carbon emissions from transportation by walking or biking whenever possible. If you work in the municipality, you may be able to drive part-way, and then cycle or walk the rest of the way to your place of business. It’s considerably more difficult to do this once the snow arrives, or when the weather forecast calls for downpours. Carpooling with colleagues or fellow students who live in your area is a good option. It would help considerably to have a park-and-ride in or very near to Almonte and Pakenham, and – I’m dreaming in technicolour here – a shuttle service that would pick people up at designated points in the country and drive them to one of the park-and-rides served by OC Transpo. Perhaps we could even have an “Uber” system here, whereby you can book a taxi, private car or rideshare from your mobile phone. It would be useful if residents could find readily available links on the Town’s website to these different environmentally friendly options.

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, of course reliability and affordability are paramount, but what about gas consumption? A quick look at Consumer Reports provides the following information: (

  • Honda Civic (compact) 30 mpg overall (city and highway driving)
  • Honda Accord (mid-size) 26 mpg overall
  • Honda CR-V EX (small SUV) 23 mpg overall
  • Honda Pilot EX-L (mid-size/large SUV) 18 mpg overall

Clearly, people with SUVs generate more carbon emissions per kilometre than drivers with smaller cars. Unless you do a lot of off-road driving, you can meet all your needs (towing capacity, passenger room, cargo space, safe winter driving) with an appropriate non-SUV car, and save money on gas in the bargain.

If you need to drive, try to combine as many errands into one trip as possible. Buy locally if possible, and contribute to the community’s economic prosperity at the same time. If your errands are within a one-kilometre radius, perhaps, after parking your car, you can walk to your various stops before getting back into your car. You’ll save gas, time (in finding a new parking space), and gain some exercise and fresh air. Finally, avoid idling your engine. According to the Green Action Centre (

Myth # 2: It takes more gas to restart your car than to keep it running. Shutting it off and starting it again is also very hard on the engine. (See the myth busted below)

Idling is one of the largest wastes of fuel for Canadian drivers and all of that waste is taking us nowhere. In fact you could be spending up to 25% of your time behind the wheel idling. Depending on your vehicle, every 10 minutes of idling is costing you between 1/10 and 4/10′s of a liter of fuel.

Idling is something we don’t often think about – it’s a habit that we do unconsciously. Reducing our idling not only saves us money, but reduces significantly greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) and health-harming pollution. If Canadian motorists reduced their idling by just 3 minutes a day, it would be the equivalent to taking 320,000 vehicles off the road for the entire year!

So do you need to be idling when you are:

  • dropping off or picking up kids school?
  • waiting at a drive-thru?
  • waiting in line at the gas station or car wash?
  • running short errands?
  • warming up your car in cold weather?
  • stopped at railway crossings?
  • stopped at construction zones?
  • stopped at red lights?

Myth Busted

While the initial question may involve a “value judgement,” the answer is quite clear: idling wastes fuel and gets you nowhere! The fact is that:

  • anything over 10 seconds of idling uses more fuel that shutting off and restarting you vehicle.
  • the money you save by not idling will more than offset any costs for wear-and-tear on your vehicle.

One of the most important reasons for reduced idling is simply the cost. The fuel consumed in 10 minutes of idling varies between 1/3 and 1/2 of a litre depending on your particular vehicle. Today’s vehicles with fuel injection and electronic ignition start more easily and suffer far less wear and tear on the engine components. National Resources Canada indicates that the break-even point to offset any potential maintenance costs is 60 seconds; however, other research would indicate that 30 seconds would be more accurate. Some sources estimate the cost of restarting your engine to be approximately $ 10.00 to $ 15.00 per year, which would more than be offset by the fuel saving costs.

And let’s not forget about the idling that many of us do to warm up our cars in winter. The best way to warm your car up in winter is to drive it. Excessive idling can actually be more harmful for your car as the fuel is not fully combusted when your car is idling outside of its peak operating temperature. This fuel residue builds up on the cylinder walls and can also contaminate the engine oil, thereby reducing its ability to lubricate. On most days you need no more than 30 seconds of idling before driving away. Your engine, and all the other components that do not warm up while idling, will warm up quicker and more efficiently. (Jan. 2014)

As individuals, we can do a lot to reduce our carbon footprint when it comes to travelling, even if we live out in the country and need to drive to work and other destinations. We can do much more if our municipality improves our access to active transportation, shared rides and public transport. If public transport companies identify a demand for more frequent buses, that will make it even easier to popularize this mode of travel. Improving non-car access in reverse (for example, having a shuttle bus that travels between Ottawa and Almonte) may also encourage Ottawa residents to come out and enjoy the many outdoor activities, cultural events, and shops that Mississippi Mills has to offer, enhancing our community’s prosperity and vitality. Let’s can the car as much as we can!