The Unseen Inefficiency of Escalator Etiquette

March 21, 2019

Is there a right way to ride an escalator? City escalator etiquette states that one side is for standers and the other for walkers. But is this the safest, most efficient way to ride an escalator?


MALE_1: [MUSIC] There is an unspoken rule that

MALE_1: every city dweller knows, it's this split.

MALE_1: Every escalator is divided into two sides.

MALE_1: One side is for the standers and

MALE_1: the other side is for the walkers.

MALE_1: This escalator etiquette has been

MALE_1: established in cities all over the world.

MALE_1: Tokyo, Moscow, Washington DC,

MALE_1: it's a delicate balance that's been struck,

MALE_1: forced out of a battle between

MALE_1: the walkers and the standards,

MALE_1: that's been going on as long as

MALE_1: escalators have been around.

MALE_1: Escalator walkers and standers have learned to

MALE_1: accommodate or at least tolerate each other.

MALE_1: But this split isn't the best solution,

MALE_1: because it's inefficient and unsafe.

MALE_1: A better way has been proven through

MALE_1: research and recommended by

MALE_1: escalator manufacturers and public transit officials.

MALE_1: But changing people's escalator behavior isn't easy.

MALE_1: Officials know because they've tried and failed.

MALE_1: Because these two groups insist on

MALE_1: using the escalator as they see fit.

MALE_1: So what's the right way to ride an escalator?

MALE_1: And why is it so hard to get everybody to do it?

MALE_1: [MUSIC] How people are

MALE_1: supposed to use the escalator has

MALE_1: always been a contentious topic.

MALE_1: Just check out these letters to the editor from

MALE_1: a Boston newspaper in 1946.

MALE_2: To the editor, why is it that

MALE_2: Boston people have so much time?

MALE_2: As a New Yorker, I find it

MALE_2: very irritating to ride standing all the way

MALE_2: up the escalator because

MALE_2: some stout Bostonian chooses

MALE_2: to use it as a slow motion roller coaster.

MALE_3: Whoever wrote that letter is

MALE_3: the kind of guy that makes me sick.

MALE_3: Escalators are stalled so that people who can not walk

MALE_3: up can get to the top of

MALE_3: the stairs without killing themselves.

MALE_3: If the gentleman wants to run up,

MALE_3: let him run up the stairs.

MALE_1: The original 1859 patent for

MALE_1: revolving stairs said they could be

MALE_1: used for standing or walking.

MALE_1: But the first working prototypes were used as

MALE_1: attractions at Coney Island and the World's Fair.

MALE_1: There were rides that were meant to be ridden.

MALE_1: When the first commercial version was created in 1899,

MALE_1: it was called the escalator,

MALE_1: derived from the Latin word Scala meaning steps,

MALE_1: meaning they were meant to be stepped on.

MALE_1: What wasn't up for debate was

MALE_1: that escalators were more convenient than stairs,

MALE_1: and they were installed in department stores,

MALE_1: hotels, and train stations.

MALE_1: Subway escalators could transport

MALE_1: far more passengers than elevators,

MALE_1: but needed to be long to

MALE_1: reach the deep subway stations that

MALE_1: double as air raid and

MALE_1: fallout shelters during the Cold War.

MALE_1: Most of the world's longest escalators

MALE_1: are in former Soviet republics.

MALE_1: As cities got more crowded,

MALE_1: people's need to get up or down

MALE_1: the escalator became more urgent and,

MALE_1: the split became the norm. [MUSIC]

MALE_4: But walking on an escalator is

MALE_4: not the same as walking on stairs.

MALE_4: Escalator steps are wider and taller than stairs.

MALE_4: They also don't have landings and

MALE_4: are much steeper as a result.

MALE_4: Walking is the number one cause of injuries on

MALE_4: escalators for people under the age of 65.

MALE_4: You can see why then that the majority of people would

MALE_4: choose to stand on long escalators.

MALE_4: But an uneven weight distribution caused by standers puts

MALE_4: a tremendous strain on one side of the machine,

MALE_4: increasing the risk of it breaking down.

MALE_4: And escalator breakdowns are no joke.

MALE_4: Overburdened in aging escalators are

MALE_4: common and can lead to horrific accidents.

MALE_4: As a result, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission

MALE_4: as well as escalator manufacturers,

MALE_4: recommends standing in the center of

MALE_4: the escalator and holding onto the handrail.

MALE_4: But that would mean giving up something critically

MALE_4: important to commuters, the right to choose.

MALE_4: Research has shown that commuters experience

MALE_4: more stress than fighter pilots in riot police,

MALE_4: that's because people really want to

MALE_4: feel in control of their movement.

MALE_4: We get angry when our autonomy gets taken away.

MALE_4: Think of road rage during rush hour.

MALE_4: The escalator split helps avoid that,

MALE_4: letting everyone choose how quickly they want to move.

MALE_4: But the split is wrong,

MALE_4: not just because it's unsafe but because

MALE_4: so much escalator space goes unused.

MALE_4: That's because half of the escalator is

MALE_4: reserved for a minority of people.

MALE_4: A walker takes up an average of

MALE_4: three steps while a stander takes up just one.

MALE_4: This leads to gridlock at the escalators entrance.

MALE_4: And the longer the escalator,

MALE_4: the more pronounced the problem gets,

MALE_4: because more people are going to

MALE_4: choose to stand on the right.

MALE_4: But if people stood side by side on the escalator,

MALE_4: it could fit more people.

MALE_4: More people riding the escalator means

MALE_4: less build up and it's been proven to work.

FEMALE_1: Please stand on both sides of these escalators.

MALE_4: In 2016 London's Hoban Metro Station

MALE_4: designated two of its escalators,

MALE_4: some of the transit systems longest as

MALE_4: standing only for six months.

MALE_4: The result, escalator capacity

MALE_4: was increased by 30 percent.

MALE_4: But this only works if everyone does it,

MALE_4: and that's a hard sell for walkers.

MALE_4: The Hoban escalators naturally went back to

MALE_4: the split as soon as the trial was over.

MALE_4: Tokyo also tried and

MALE_4: failed to implement a standing only rule,

MALE_4: despite a rigorous PSA campaign.

MALE_4: Why is it so hard to ditch the split for the common good?

MALE_4: Well, it isn't so much a problem

MALE_4: of changing individual behavior,

MALE_4: but of changing a cultural norm.

MALE_4: Most Westerners prefer about a foot and

MALE_4: a half of personal space around them at all times,

MALE_4: standing on an escalator doesn't allow for that.

MALE_4: And social pressure has a powerful influence on behavior.

MALE_4: Any tourist who has been screamed at for

MALE_4: standing on the wrong side of the escalator knows that.

MALE_5: Whoa buddy, I'm walking here.

MALE_4: But this shame can work both ways.

MALE_4: Several South American cities have hired

MALE_4: mascots and mimes as crossing guards,

MALE_4: whose main job is to ridicule

MALE_4: those who don't obey the traffic laws.

MALE_4: They've reduced traffic fatalities

MALE_4: by as much as 50 percent..

MALE_4: The social pressure of the split

MALE_4: has led to its dominance,

MALE_4: so it might take a couple of martyrs or mimes to take

MALE_4: a stand on one side and start the revolution.