Turns out, we might have been using escalators wrong for years

Pop quiz: What kind of escalator patron are you? Are you a vigilant stander who enjoys the 20-second break from walking, or a passer who claims to be in a hurry? When we step onto an escalator, we typically understand that there are two sides: the standing side and the walking side. But what if standing (as in, everyone standing) were actually the fastest option?

The Guardian reports that, according to new research, escalators work more efficiently when everyone stays put. When a few people start squeezing by—that’s when things slow down for everyone.

The idea came to a manager in the Vauxhall, London area named Len Lau. While visiting Hong Kong, he noticed that when people rode the escalators in the Mass Transit Railway, they stood still on both sides of the escalator. The result was a safer and more efficient way of doing things. He arranged a three-week trial of the idea at Holborn, a Tube station in London.

Lau found that when passengers walk on the left of the escalator, it can accommodate 81.25 people per minute. But when everyone stands still on the left, that number increases to 112.5 people per minute. That gets 31.25 more people on the escalator per minute—a 28% increase. So standing still might not necessarily get you up the escalator faster than walking would, but it will get you on the escalator more quickly, because more people will cycle through in a quicker amount of time.

Here’s why it works: In particularly busy train stations with taller escalators, not as many people are willing to walk. “By encouraging their preference, TfL [Transport for London] effectively halves the capacity of the escalator in question, and creates significantly more crowding below, slowing everyone down,” The Guardian explains.

When some people walk and some people stand, it also introduces more gaps between passengers. People tend to avoid standing directly next to someone on an escalator. They also avoid standing on the step right behind someone. This wastes space that could be filled with more people. When it’s understood that nobody will walk up behind you and invade your personal space by attempting to pass you, people pack in more closely.

It would definitely be hard to get EVERYONE to adopt the practice of standing still on escalators; the two-lane approach is ingrained in our behavior. But maybe one day it’ll be the new normal, and we’ll get to the top a few seconds earlier.

(Featured image via Flickr.)