A moving story: Standing on the escalator moves more people than walking on it.

escalator in washington
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter

There are two kinds of people in this world; those who stand on escalators and enjoy the ride, and those who walk up or down them to get there faster. And if the former is standing on the left and blocking the latter from walking, we of the latter persuasion get very cranky. I got a good lesson about this in Washington, which has incredibly long escalators and where people have very sharp elbows if you get in their way. In fact, people in Washington who stand and block the way are called escalumps.

But in fact, from the point of view of moving the most people, walking up or down the escalator is counterproductive. Transport for London studied it and found that in fact, the escalator can move more people if they just relax and stand still. According to Archie Bland in the Guardian,

The theory, if counterintuitive, is also pretty compelling. Think about it. It’s all very well keeping one side of the escalator clear for people in a rush, but in stations with long, steep walkways, only a small proportion are likely to be willing to climb. In lots of places, with short escalators or minimal congestion, this doesn’t much matter. But a 2002 study of escalator capacity on the Underground found that on machines such as those at Holborn, with a vertical height of 24 metres, only 40% would even contemplate it. By encouraging their preference, TfL effectively halves the capacity of the escalator in question, and creates significantly more crowding below, slowing everyone down.

escalator diagramThe Guardian/Screen capture

In fact, by having people stand instead of walk, it increased the capacity of the escalator by 28 percent. Of course, getting people to do it was a bit of a challenge, with the polite passengers calling it “terrible”, “loopy,” “crap”, “ridiculous”, and a “very bad idea”. In the light of such feedback, they are only going to try and implement this idea where there is another parallel escalator where people can walk. They are also going to have a customer service hologram to remind people to stand on both sides, perhaps on the assumption that the hologram will not be as sensitive to abuse as a real person.

escalator at museumLloyd Alter/ Ruhr Museum, Essen, with what was the longest escalator in Europe/CC BY 2.0

I personally go nuts standing on an escalator and always walk; even on this, the longest escalator in Europe, I walked up and down the whole length of it. What do you do?

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