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British gallery owner Mark Peaker makes an art out of Hong Kong’s idling engine law enforcement


Avid letter writer to the Post tells why he shows no mercy when it comes to drivers who leave their engines running

Former banker and now art gallery owner Mark Peaker attributes the success of both his careers to his jovial nature.

But there’s one group of people to whom the British-born Hongkonger shows no mercy – the city’s perennial engine idlers.

“It’s my biggest bugbear about Hong Kong – these belligerent drivers who clog up the roads and won’t turn their engines off,” Peaker, who owns gallery 3812 in Sai Ying Pun, says.

“It has caused a lot of ill will in Hong Kong but it would be such an easy problem to fix.”

As an avid letter writer to the South China Morning Post, “Mark Peaker from The Peak” is noted for his regular commentary and complaints on discourteous road etiquette, which remains unchanged despite a bill being introduced in 2011 penalising those who idle their engines.

A community man who has called the city home for more than 12 years, Peaker canvasses almost daily for better enforcement of the Motor Vehicle Idling Ordinance over the habit that is not only a nuisance to those navigating the tight streets, but also makes Hong Kong smog levels all the worse.

“When you first arrive in Hong Kong, you’re not part of the community and you don’t really get invested in this sort of thing but then you adapt to your environment,” he said.


Peaker said he struggles to understand why enforcement on the matter is so limp. He has acquired a certain degree of notoriety among officers for his querying their enforcement tactics, adding with an air of exasperation that they do not seem to approach the matter as assertively as they ought to.

“I saw an officer being yelled at by a driver who was idling his engine, and I went up to him and said, ‘Why can’t you get this guy to turn his engine off?’,” he says, describing how the officer gave the shrill response: “Because he won’t listen to me.”

Born in Cambridge to a diplomat father and stay-at-home mother, Peaker was brought up in well-to-do west London. He moved to Hong Kong at a time when he felt his career as a banker was coming to a close.

A man of good taste and a natural networker, he found himself drawn to the art world, deciding more than seven years ago to set up a gallery of contemporary art alongside his partner, art aficionado Calvin Hoi.

He says what drew him to the city – the diversity, the hustle and bustle, the cityscapes and energy – are qualities that have him still very much in love with Hong Kong, despite its problems.

“Hong Kong has always fascinated me, I’m an urban dweller at heart – and this place has a lot to offer everyone,” he says, describing how he also enjoys hosting ¬acting classes for students as part of his community work with NGO Shakespeare for all, alongside sketching workshops in a separate pro bono project.

“There are so many positives, it’s such a vibrant place, and sometimes we lose sight of that,” he adds.

Idling law has had ‘zero effect’ on pollution level

Peaker is not alone in his crusade against the scourge of idling engines across Hong Kong. Since 2006, 8,337 complaints about idling engines have been made to the Environmental Protection Department, the body tasked with penalising offending drivers.

Despite this, only 201 fines have been issued by the department since the Motor Vehicle Idling Ordinance came into operation in 2011. The number of fines amounts to just 4.4 per cent of complaints made since that year.

And at HK$320 a pop, many consider the fines to be ineffective deterrents.

“The fine is ridiculous, and the belligerent attitude of the drivers means a lot of the time police don’t even enforce the rules,” Peaker said.

But he thinks the Hongkongers who deserve the blame for the lines of chugging engines across the city are the well-to-do who require their drivers to wait endlessly for them to appear.

“They have this self-belief that they’re so important they’re above the law,” Peaker said, describing how on several occasions he had seen drivers ignore inspectors and police officers asking them to turn off their engines.

“I have emailed Central Police Station, CEOs, [my local council representative] Joseph Chan, as well as directly emailing companies whose drivers abuse the law and numerous schools where [students’] drivers park illegally, idling their engines waiting to pick up on their morning runs.”

He describes an email flow that spans years.

Environmental campaigner at Clear the Air, James Middleton, agrees that the ordinance can hardly be described as a success. He said it had had “zero” effect on pollution levels.
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