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Escalator Etiquette vs. Escalator Efficiency

The London Underground moves millions of passengers every day, and the numbers keep growing. Anything that can make the system more efficient is worth a look. But flouting convention on escalators makes those passengers see red. See, the convention in London (and most US cities) is that you stand still on the right side of an escalator, and leave the left side open for those who want to walk up or down. An official from Transport for London (TfL) went to Hong Kong and noticed that MTR passengers on escalators didn’t walk -they just stood shoulder to shoulder and rode the stairs. Calculations showed that this behavior led to more carrying capacity for the escalators as a whole, and increased safety. They arranged a trial at Holborn station, in which TfL employees asked passengers to stand on both sides of the escalators. Other commuters were outraged.  

We might be bad at dancing and expressing our feelings, but say this for the British: when we settle on a convention of public order, we bloody well stick to it. We wait in line. We leave the last biscuit. And when we take the escalator, we stand on the right. The left is reserved for people in a hurry. In Washington DC, those who block the way are known as “escalumps”; here, they can expect the public humiliation of a tutting sound just over their shoulder. “Passengers just don’t like having these things changed,” says Celia Harrison, a Transport for London (TfL) customer strategy analyst, and one of the key people responsible for this heretical deviation from the norm. “I’ve worked on stations for many years. So I was aware that whatever we did people weren’t going to be comfortable about having their routine disturbed.”

The results of the trial were as expected: the carrying capacity of the escalators was increased, producing more efficiency for the system. But the backlash was so severe that officials admit that even if and when the system is introduce to other locations, they will have to reserve at least one escalator for those who prefer to walk. People just don't like change. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Flickr user Ben Leto)

How should we use an escalator in a crowded subway system?






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If the escalator is past a certain capacity, the the efficiency of the whole becomes the efficiency of the individual. In that situation the time saved walking is lost waiting to get on due to other people walking.

There are many cases where forcing people to wait can make every person get there faster, even for the individuals who have to wait longest. This is heavily studied for road traffic. You can have situations where a road with no cross streets will perform better with a stop light to pace people, such that even the first person stopped at the light, who has to wait the longest, will get through faster than if they didn't have the light.

The problem is these fixes tend to be for only certain high traffic scenarios, and a bad implementation will make other scenarios worse. Additionally, people complain heavily and will insist it is slower even when someone else measures it with a stop watch. At the end of the day, perception of speed matters more than actual speed for things like road and foot traffic.
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After an escalator reaches capacity, then this method should be used. It's inefficient to use this method when the escalator is not full. Of course people got angry.
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