Every courteous traveler obeys the golden rule of escalators: Pass on the left, stand to the right. That allows passengers rushing to catch a flight or board a train the opportunity to pass by quickly.
But a recent story in the New York Times claims that everything we know about escalators is wrong.
The Times cites a 2015 experiment in the London Underground that found that it’s more efficient if everyone stands on the escalator, even for the walkers who typically rush up the left. That may seem counterintuitive, but the experiment offered a reason why: Everyone waits longer, including the walkers, to get on the escalator because the standers only board one side and create congestion. If people stand on both sides, they reduce congestion by filling up more of the escalator, and everyone gets on and to the top quicker.
To this claim I say balderdash. The biggest problem with this experiment is that the results only apply to peak travel times, or when the escalators are packed with people. If there’s no wait to get on the escalator, you can step on it immediately and walk up the left side, saving yourself plenty of time while not impacting the standers on the right in any way.
Another problem could be cultural. People in the United States simply aren’t going to stand side-by-side on the same step because it feels like an invasion of personal space. So you’re not actually filling up the escalator in the manner the experiment requires.
The Times also interviews an escalator company spokesperson who says it’s safer if everyone stands on the escalator, but again I question the veracity of this claim. An escalator is little more than a staircase that moves, though certainly not at speeds to increase falls, and people everyday have no trouble walking up or down staircases.
Be Courteous To Fellow Travelers
The pass on the left, stand to the right rule is a good one that travelers should continue following.
Many travelers have valid reasons for being in a rush. They overslept. There was unexpected traffic getting to the airport or train station. They stood in long lines at check-in or security. Their connecting flight arrived late. For these people, standing still on the escalator is not practical when they’re trying to make a flight.
Other travelers may not be in such a hurry, so boosting efficiency of overall escalator use doesn’t improve or diminish their travel experience. These folks aren’t going to miss their flight or their train by standing to the right to let walkers who are running late pass by them on the left.
While navigating an airport or train station, we should all try to be more courteous to our fellow travelers. Get on and off the escalator quickly. Place your luggage on the step in front or behind you so it doesn’t block the escalator. If you’re rushing up the left, don’t bump into people standing on the right or smack them with your luggage. And hey, it doesn’t hurt to say thank you as you pass.