Stop Walking On The Escalator

Stop Walking On The Escalator

Escalator walkers and escalator standers are forever locked in struggle—they are like toilet paper over-the-roll installers and under-the-roll installers, or GIF pronouncers, or one-spacers and two-spacers, only brought head to head every day in the malls, airports, offices, train exits, and sundry moving staircases of the world.

And the real-world evidence, it seems, is on the side of the standers. Walkers are a bottleneck, and they’re slowing each other — and the standers — down.

In a 2015 London tube experiment, London’s transport authority instructed commuters to stand still on both sides of the up escalator, instead of using the left side to walk. They found that with this switch, the escalator could take an extra passenger every two seconds. That’s 28 per cent more passengers who could ride on the escalator in a given period of time, if everyone stopped trying to walk.

The reason is that when people walk up the escalator, they need more space before and behind them. Think of how close cars can get on a slow city street, compared to how much room they need on the highway. It turns out that the huge amount of space that escalator-walkers need cancels out all the time they gain by walking. They’re putting out more effort and getting a worse result.

Even worse, on a very long escalator, most regular riders know it’s not worth walking. So they politely pack onto the crowded right side of the escalator. As Quartz points out, everyone leaves half the escalator empty, just in case someone decides to walk up it. We treat those occasional walkers like kings.

Why? Because we have been trained to worship the workaholics, the hard drivers, the people who can’t stand still for thirty seconds and catch their breath. We all waste half the space of an escalator, slowing ourselves down. This is humiliating. Let’s put an end to it.

If you’re ready to be a hero but an outcast — Batman — then next time you’re on a crowded escalator, move to the “walking” side, and stand still. Let everyone pile up behind you. Let them fill up both sides of the escalator, nice and tight. They won’t know it, but you’re actually speeding things up for them.

This rule only applies if there’s a lot of traffic on the escalator. If you’re the only one around, of course you’ll get up it faster if you walk. It’s only when people interact — when your walking forces you to leave space for each other — that it slows the system down.

In those cases, I say, stand anyway. That sounds stupid, right? Waste a few seconds for no reason? Yes, I used to be an escalator walker. I felt the same. Then one day I read this tweet.

A banal tweet, a clichéd comment, but I couldn’t shake it. Every time I started walking up an escalator, I was filled with dread, like a hypnotist had planted a trigger in me. Walking up escalators feels bad. It’s not like bounding up regular stairs. It’s disorienting, like badly synced VR, or playing with your phone too much in a car. It tires you out. It makes you brush against more strangers than necessary. It barely saves you any time. It’s virtue signalling.

So I stopped. It feels good. I check texts, I look around dumbly, I catch my breath, I stare at the back of the person in front of me. It’s not a moment of meditation or anything, but it’s one less moment of grinding as hard as possible against the spinning wheel of life.

And when I’m headed down, I take the stairs.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


  • Both examples assume the escalator is being used at peek times with capacity, and I agree walking is bad in those cases.

    But when theres room to move, people should stick to the left and let people pass… because if I am stuck behind you and you wont move, I will start humming the theme music to Disneyland park rides. Nothing is more evil than getting a Small World After All stuck in your head.

    • “Both examples”? Whats the second example? Start humming Disneyland park rides 🙂 stop encouraging us to make sure you get stuck behind us I’d so enjoy the laught

  • What is this article I don’t even…

    Yeah no. Walking up (or down) as escalator will always be faster than standing still and just letting it carry you up. If you don’t believe me, I’ll wave to you when I reach the top after walking while you’re still halfway up.

    London’s transport authority instructed commuters to stand still on both sides of the up escalator, instead of using the left side to walk. They found that with this switch, the escalator could take an extra passenger every two seconds. That’s 28 per cent more passengers who could ride on the escalator in a given period of time, if everyone stopped trying to walk.

    You know what would have been even quicker and accommodated even more passengers in that time period? If *everyone* walked. Now there’s a thought. Did the researchers not even think about that?

    The comparison to cars in the next paragraph is very poignant actually, you make it sound like cars being stacked close together on a slow city street is somehow more efficient than cars being further apart but moving at much faster speeds on a highway. Highways cater for much larger volumes of traffic than slow city streets, cars travel much faster and travel further in the same length of time. This analogy doesn’t strengthen the “stand still” argument, in fact it strengthens the “everyone should walk” argument and proves that when everyone is moving faster it’s far more efficient than when everyone is moving slower, despite the fact they need extra space to do so.

    • Cool, not everyone is physically able to walk though. Have you ever seen an 80+ year old or heavily pregnant women hiking it up the steps? Probably not. Arthritis isn’t typically visible either but it would definitely make stairs painful. Please consider these things if you ever find yourself getting angry or indignant because you’re “stuck” behind someone standing on an escalator.

      • Obviously I understand that and I can tell when someone would physically find it difficult to move up stairs. Senior people, pregnant women, someone with an injury, people with small children or are carrying big bags or other items, etc. I’m not saying those people should walk up or down the escalator. I’m just debunking the argument made in the article that everyone standing still is the most efficient way to travel on the escalator.

        There’s also usually other options such as lifts available as well.

        If you’re able bodied though there’s really no excuse to just stand there imo especially if you don’t move to the side to let others past.

    • No sorry, but your arguments don’t actually stack up. You claim if everybody walked you’d all get there faster goes against whats pointed out in the experiment that walking takes up more space therefore not as many people can get up in the same time. Your argument about the highway vs city streets consists of far more changed variables than speed so it is not comparable either, first and most obvious is that highway has significantly more lanes, we’re not comparing two or three escalators with walkers vs one with standers. Still, you probably have far too much to do to even bother reading this far if you need that extra 10 seconds on the escalator so much.

      • That’s really not what the experiment points out at all. It tested everyone packing in, as opposed to half the elevator being empty for people walking. Everyone packs in = more on the elevator. In a highly congested situation, that makes sense, but only in a highly congested situation.

      • Considering most escalators I encounter are in transit areas (railway and airport mostly) saving the ten seconds there is far more valuable to me than spending 10 seconds or even ten minutes reading this article. That 10 seconds could be the difference between making the train and missing it. Just had to point that out.

        The highway -v- city streets argument is interesting. A lot of city streets actually have more lanes than highways so I don’t think that side of the argument holds up. I think though the problem is the difference in speed is a lot higher so the volume increase is (or can be) quite a lot higher as a result (40 or 50k streets -v- 100-110k highway). I’m not sure that the speed difference on an escalator is that marked. So I think the changed speed is the key factor there.

        I think also potential interruption or change is also a factor. A highway will bottleneck at entrances and exits because the speed changes. The main reason highways can have high speeds is because they typically go a long way between these bottlenecks. In the case of the escalator the bottlenecks are much closer together so higher speed is less effective. If you were on a 10 minute escalator ride rather than a 10 second one walking would likely be a far more efficient option.

    • I assume they’re factoring in the “pool” of people stuck at the bottom of the elevator waiting to get on and calculating an average time per user. I agree that with minimal – moderate numbers walking up the escalator is faster since you’re not stuck waiting at the bottom just to get on.

      However, they may be right if you’re caught up in the crush of people waiting to get on the escalator. So the travel time they’re talking about is not *just* the escalator trip but the adjacent area too.

      I think the likelihood is that while you will move faster walking up/down the escalator it isn’t enough to offset the increase in space required. So the average volume of people flow winds up being lower even if the individual time for some may be faster.

  • I get there seems to be a logic to just stand still but No, I ain’t doing that and am perfectly happy. Standing on the escalator, nobody got time for that. Especially when trying to get somewhere, ie train that is about to leave.

    So I stopped. It feels good. I check texts, I look around dumbly, I catch my breath, I stare at the back of the person in front of me. It’s not a moment of meditation or anything, but it’s one less moment of grinding as hard as possible against the spinning wheel of life.

    Just lost me totally with this paragraph, like wtf.

  • Woah there.
    The purpose of the escalator is motion. You can say “this motion is free, I’m not moving” or “this motion helps my motion, I’ll walk”. That’s fine.
    But the premise that you hold more standing people on an escalator, or maximise its throughput as a result is flawed because the purpose is to spit them out the other end.
    The moving people walking on the escalator are far more effective at increasing its throughput than the loss of space between them.

    • Except the statistics in the article point out that the reality if the exact opposite.

      Remember throughput is not *per user* or for a specific user, it’s a volume over time stat. So on average more users per minute/hour/day will get through using the “stand there” option. At least according to the research.

      • Thanks for the downvote, good to see you don’t even read the article or understand the point being made.

  • Then there’s also the rush of endorphins for doing a little bit of exercise. In a lot of places there is no accessible option for regular stairs. I feel better for walking the escalator than not, even if I’m not in any kind of hurry.

    • I actually prefer using the stairs when they are next to the escalator. Largely because slow people won’t use them. It’s common to see a huge crowd milling at the bottom of the escalator at Brisbane City train station and literally no one using the stairs right next to them. As a result it’s much, much faster to actually use the stairs.

  • Gosh, the walkers are out in arms trying to claim their way is better by ignoring the illogical mistakes in the argument. Definitely highlights the quote from the article “Hey people who walk up perfectly functioning escalators, do you even remember what happiness feels like?”

    • I’m a “walker” and I can understand the logic of the article. However, I’d love to see stats based on congestion. Conduct proper scientific experiments with different volumes of users. I firmly believe that in a scenario where the elevator isn’t crowded walking is more efficient. But that changes at some point as the congestion increases to favour the standing still option. I’d like to know where that break point is.

      • As you pointed out, the purpose of the research was to measure throughput efficiency, not individual efficiency. Definitely, if there aren’t many people using it, there will be room for individual walkers to get where they’re going faster. I’ll walk too, given the option and the space.

  • 1 extra person every 2 seconds… this MAY provide a tiny increase in throughput during the busiest of peak periods with hundreds of people all going for the escalator at the same time. But for the vast majority of the time, having everyone stand is going to actually slow down throughput, since all the walkers are now forced to wait.
    if there was some seamless and easy way to implement a system where walking was banned only during the times it is a detriment, this would help, but since that isn’t the case, the “keep left unless overtaking” rule wins.

  • The author of this article is *obviously* a slow walker and will probably be murdered ass a result.

    So no to slow walker propaganda! First they argue standing and blocking both escalator lanes is okay. Then they will argue it is okay to walk in front of you at a maddingly slow pace when you have somewhere to be. It is all sophistry ; they want to Make Australia Late Again – rend their flesh and feast on the marrow from their bones, seize your birthright, fast walkers!

  • I agree with the findings in the article, they’ve just missed explaining a crucial detail as to why it is quicker if everyone does not walk, and instead jam in side by side. This is only possible factoring in time wasted with people crowding the areas before the entry to the escalator in an effort to queue to their desired side. Don’t check your phone, walk if you have the capacity to do so. Escalators have turned into unnecessary zombie conveyor belts. What did people do before them? They walked up stairs. These moving stairs should be helping people climb them, not walk for them. Don’t be a jerk and block the walkers, if you’re in my way I’m going to ask you politely to step aside. If you want to make a change, go to Parliament or the escalator owner and lobby for rule changes, don’t encourage others to be jerks.

  • Yes, because I’m sure people commuting alone will stand next to someone else on the escalator to maximize throughput… It’s hard enough to get people to move when they purposefully leave the window seat empty for their bag.

    • Actually I see people standing side by side on the escalators all the time. Especially when it’s peak hour. Doesn’t matter whether they’re complete strangers the vast majority are willing to do it. Off peak when volume is lower is a different story though.

  • How about when we have multiple escalators, one becomes the walking one, and people with constraints on walking or no value in their lives (these aren’t the same thing) can stand and wait.

    At a time when we’re in an epidemic of obesity and lack of physical exercise, telling people not to climb the moving stairs is just wrong.

  • At less busy times, if people choosing to stand still would just keep to the left and not block the progress of those wishing to walk on the right (as in driving, overtaking on the right), then there would be fewer frustrated/annoyed escalator riders. Studies have shown that frustration/annoyance can be cumulative in some people. You “stand-stillers don’t want be the cause of a walker reaching the frustration/annoyance overload point, believe me.

  • In Japan they have a rule of keep left if standing and walk on the right(Opposite way in Osaka) and this seems to work really well considering the volume of people they have to deal with in their train stations.

  • What’s the point of this article? I am picturing some angry guy writing this with resentment about working people trying to get to work when they have left their crying kid at kinder.

    If you are on the escalator and you feel like walking up, it is YOUR choice. If you want to skip the escalators and climb the stairs instead, it is YOUR choice. If you choose to use the lift, it is YOUR choice.

    Someone judging your choice should just worry and write about things which are more critical in this world. eg fires, malaria killing kids, things which matter. Merry xmas

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