Escalator Etiquette: The Dos and Don’ts
Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, has said he always walks on escalators. Good exercise, yes, but some cities discourage it. And there’s one thing obstructing walkers – people who stand.
There are walkers and there are standers, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a walker.
In announcing a plan to make New York’s buildings more stair-friendly, the mayor said he always walks on escalators.
Most escalator walking happens at underground stations – people don’t tend to be in such a hurry in a shopping centre, for instance.
But Bloomberg is still in a minority of escalator users around the world. In London, about 25% of people on the Tube walk on the escalators and in Shanghai only about 3%, according to a study.
And in some countries, walking on escalators is discouraged. On the Toronto subway system, signs that encouraged people to walk on the left were removed at the recommendation of safety experts.
There are 426 escalators on the London Underground and there’s a signposted system of standing to the right and walking to the left.
Research in 2011 by the University of Greenwich found that 75% of people at Paddington Tube station stood and the left-right rule was observed by nearly 90% of people.
But the custom varies depending where you are. The same team of researchers earlier found that in Shanghai, only 2.4% walked and there was no preferred side to walk on.
Most escalators across the world that do have a standing/walking system follow the walk on the left custom, to speed up the flow. One of the exceptions is Australia, where people walk on the right.
It’s interesting that so many countries walk left but no-one’s quite sure why. It could be a random effect, it could be a copy effect, or it could have something to do with the side of the road we drive on. It could be some kind of rationalisation based on this.
The British drive on the left and so choose to walk that side on escalators, he says, but in countries that drive on the right, the rationale could be that you drive on the right, so you stand on the right.
But one thing unites all the cities that do have a system – there’s conflict when people obstruct the walking lane.
There are plenty of examples online of frustrated commuters venting their anger about what they regard as anti-social behaviour. Pet gripes are people standing on the wrong side, not leaving enough space between standers, stopping at the top and blocking the way with luggage.
Injuries and fatalities on escalators are rare. In Beijing, one died, and dozens were injured in 2011 when an escalator suddenly changed direction and threw them off balance. Other cases have involved people being entrapped by clothes or hair, but deaths are very rare.
If you really want to avoid escalators, you should move to Wyoming. The US state has only two escalators, both in a bank.