The future of autonomous vehicles could mean big changes to how we transport large quantities of goods.
The future of autonomous vehicles could mean big changes to how we transport large quantities of goods. Credit: Flickr CC / Paul Sableman

In today’s 24-hour news cycle and polarized political landscape, few issues seem to gain strong general consensus that they avoid the knock-down-drag-out fights we see routinely in our state houses, capitol buildings and city halls. In San Antonio, one issue that rises above the political fray is our right to clean air. A City of San Antonio community survey found that 95% of residents consider clean air a critical priority.

On June 30, City Council will vote on a common-sense ordinance intended to reduce tailpipe emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone and exacerbate air pollution. The ban, approved last month by Bexar County, will prohibit vehicles weighing more than 14,000 pounds from idling for more than five minutes.

San Antonio is the only remaining large municipality in attainment of federal air quality standards set to protect public health. However, those days will soon be over. As the city grows, so do emission levels. Coupled with more stringent standards from the Environmental Protection Agency, which reduced acceptable amounts of ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion, San Antonio likely will be designated in non-attainment by next year.

In the Spring of 2015, the City of San Antonio, in collaboration with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, created a menu of options intended to dial back pollution and guide our strategy for restoring air quality. This would add to efforts already underway in our area like VIA’s aggressive fleet replacement program, bringing in new, lower-emitting vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) in place of older diesel buses.

(Read More: Focal Points Sought for Air Quality Solutions)

One of the additional measures identified this spring – and one of the easiest to implement – is a policy limiting the idling of heavy duty vehicles.  This policy affects vehicles such as 18-wheelers, beverage trucks, construction equipment and passenger buses.

We fully support the passage of this important ordinance. We know that air pollution can cause health problems that are harmful and especially dangerous for children, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. Noxious levels of ground-level ozone exacerbate asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory issues that can lead to hospitalization. We know that children with health problems are more likely to be absent and that those absences add up, pushing them farther behind in school and negatively impacting long term educational outcomes.

For this reason and many others, air quality is not just a health issue but a larger, community-wide economic concern. If San Antonio also fails to act now, and we extend the depths of our noncompliance with air quality standards, more stringent regulations and penalties are in store for our community. This equates to billions of additional dollars in costs borne by individuals, businesses and governments.

This ordinance makes sense for San Antonio. Currently trucks weighing more than 14,000 pounds are prohibited from idling in 44 communities in Texas that include Bexar County and the City of Leon Valley. The proposed ordinance is impactful and includes several reasonable exemptions that include but are not limited to cleaner vehicles; vehicles with a sleeper berth during a government-mandated rest period and stopped traffic.

But make no mistake, reducing idling alone for these large vehicles will not solve our air quality issues. All of us have a responsibility to think practically about our own vehicles idling. We can voluntarily take that first step as we did with common sense water and energy conservation practices.

This ordinance should be considered a kickoff of San Antonio’s air quality action plan, with other policies to come, because we know that our air pollution sources are as diverse as they are challenging, from traffic congestion to emissions created by energy production.

How we build our city, including new modes of transportation and the way we manage urban sprawl, will have a profound impact on our success in these efforts. That is the purpose of SA Tomorrow, our comprehensive plan to build a more sustainable, healthier San Antonio.

Let’s start now.  Ladies and gentlemen, stop your engines.

Top image: Semi trucks line up. The anti-idling ordinance would apply to any vehicle that weighs more than 5,000 pounds.  Photo by Flickr user Paul Sableman.

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Council to Vote on SA Tomorrow Plans, Anti-Idling Ordinance

Focal Points Sought for Air Quality Solutions

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Commentary: TCEQ, Alamo Area – Friends or Foes on Air Quality?

The future of autonomous vehicles could mean big changes to how we transport large quantities of goods.

Ron Nirenberg, Douglas Melnick, and Rebecca Q. Cedillo

Ron Nirenberg is the District 8 council member, Douglas Melnick is the City's Chief Sustainability Officer, and Rebecca Q. Cedillo is chair of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.