We guess you know the escalator rule like gospel: stand on the right, walk on the left. Truth is: that’s not what really happens on an escalator. That awkward moment when commuters break the rule trying to sneak their way around you, making everything worse off. Research says it would be faster if everyone just stood still on the escalator.
Related media: The Unseen Inefficiency Of Escalator Etiquette — Cheddar Explains
Should I Stand, Or Walk?
In a 2018 study by researchers from the University of Greenwich, they found that, on average, only 25 percent of people walk on escalators — the other 75 percent stand still. The catch? The stand-on-the-right, walk-on-the-left rule makes 50 percent reservation of the escalator for only 25 percent of its commuters.
It seems people tend to create more following distance on the walking side of the escalator versus the standing side. This means there’d be long lines and a slower commute overall, right? And this doesn’t mean standing is always faster. So what if the walking commuters are going to pace up just enough to make up for the extra space?
This requires testing the hypothesis in the real world to find out, and we’re sure you (of all people) aren’t going to have time to stand in still pairs on an escalator in the name of science. Fortunately enough, that’s what scientists are all about, so let’s pretend you would, too.
Just Stand By Me
In a 2015 survey, a team of analysts performed such a test at London’s Holborn Central Station. For a three-week survey, the researchers urged commuters to stand still on both sides of the escalator, sometimes asking security guards to ensure that commuters do so, giving commuters cheerful instructions through loudspeakers, and also asking couples to hold hands while using the escalator (the latter is lovely, isn’t it?).
Then guess what happened: it worked like magic — beating the analysts’ prediction just over a mile. One escalator that usually conveyed 12,745 commuters between 8 o’clock and 9 o’clock a week, now conveyed 16,220 commuters with the “standing rules” in check. Most of the commuters were like, “#hashtag, I know how to use an escalator!”
This made commuters, on average, get to their destinations faster than they would have done otherwise. This survey is the classical example of the conflict between “every man for himself” versus “the greater good for all.”
Sure, on average, an escalator where everyone stands gets commuters through faster. But would you (as a single person), stand still on an escalator when you’re the only one on it? You’d better hurry up. And that’s what’s driving commuters crazy by trying to get ahead of everyone.
The Dilemma Of Commuters
Would such a rule like that even be possible? Major cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C. have tried several no-walk campaigns, with mixed results. Unlike the perfect airplane boarding system, it seems the perfect escalator rule is more sci-fi than reality. It may never come to fruition for the simple fact that most people aren’t interested in overall efficiency. You just want to get where you’re going with as few headaches as possible. Keep still!
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Thu, Aug 29, 2019.