escalator etiquette

They first started appearing in the late 1800’s and are now in most cities, shopping complexes, and transportation systems around the world.  We’ve come to rely on these moving stairways to help transport us in many public spaces more efficiently and more practically than elevators or stairs.

Macy's Herald Square in Manhattan sill has escalators with wooden steps from turn of last century

Macy’s Herald Square in Manhattan sill has escalators with wooden steps from turn of last century

Moving around frequently with carryon luggage, finding escalators in metro systems and airports are a welcome relief to slugging luggage up or down stationary stairways.

A Shanghai Museum crisscross escalator

A Shanghai Museum crisscross escalator

Escalators have become such a benefit and convenience, that when they are missing, it’s sorely evident — like NY’s LIRR Jamaica station which links Sky Train to JFK airport, where the escalators are up only, not down.  Travelers struggle to haul their luggage down the double flights of stairs.  The same in Penn Station below Madison Square Park, the busiest train terminal in the USA, where many levels don’t have escalators, slowing the mass movement of people heaving heavy suitcases up crowded stairs.  Escalators are a public service and provide a practical function.

But one things is clearly evident with escalator users — there are standers, movers, and the blockersStanders step onto escalators and immediately stop and suspend all unnecessary energy.  They don’t lift a leg while the stairway does the moving.  Movers, on the other hand, step onto the escalator and keep stepping, even at a slower step, using the moving staircase as an assist.  Blockers, usually, but not always, are created by two or more standers, those who imede the ascent of movers.

Central Mall Bangkok filled with Standers

Central Mall Bangkok filled with Standers

Why healthy people are content being escalator standers is beyond me.  But the world over, the vast majority of vital, seemingly healthy beings step onto escalators and become standers, choosing to abruptly expend minimal energy.  I sometimes wonder if there is something wrong with me that I’m in such a minority.  When I’m not toting a load, I can’t stand standing when moving seems so natural.

Typically, standers outnumber movers by a huge margin.  So that standers and movers co-exist and efficiently share escalator space, some areas have developed the stand right/walk left etiquette rule.

In NYC, for example, most people, especially commuters, understand and respect the stand right, walk left rule.  During rush hour, when many more people are inclined to walk up the escalator, most standers automatically step onto the escalator and stand to the right.  Every once in a while clueless standers occupy any part of the step and become blockers.  More cases than not, it’s multiple standers grouped together who unwittingly become blockers.  Many couples who walk side-by-side, step onto escalators and stand side-by-side, becoming dreaded blockers.

BTS Siam Station filled with Blockers

BTS Siam Station filled with Blockers

Certainly everyone has the right while on an escalator to choose between standing and moving.  Standing though, seems so slothful.  But it’s the blockers, those who give into the pleasure of not moving a muscle, while displaying cluelessness that movers exist, who create consternation.  In other words, go ahead and conserve stepping energy and let the escalator do all the work, but at least give way to the movers without requiring them to excuse themselves past you.

And therein lies the challenge for the movers.  Do we continue to push past blockers, giving into our need to move?  Or do we practice patience, succumb to idleness, and let blockers continue without clue?

When I was in Bangkok recently, several days I walked to a nearby mall, Terminal 21.  On the 6th floor there is a small coffee shop, a large table, WIFI, and a view from the floor to ceiling windows.  Waiting for the elevators was too painful and taking the escalators provided a colorful interior view with a chance to stay on the move.  During those ascents and descents, I saw a few other movers, asking permission to pass through groups of blockers.  I was impressed, and inspired.  I decided to join them.  As I moved, I let my sandals slap loudly on each step so that my approach to blockers was heard.  Inevitably, when I was within a few steps of the blockers, they would turn, see that I was a mover, and slid over to standing position so that I could pass.  But it really shouldn’t take me walking like a clod to freely move on an escalator.

Holborn Tube Station London, mostly Movers here.

Holborn Tube Station London, mostly Movers here.

I think I’ve answered my own question.  I can’t leave the few fellow movers out their to work on their own.  It’s a thankless and never-ending task.  I must contribute and continue to nudge past blockers.  If in the process a few standers are converted to movers, the result would be a double benefit.

Escalator movers out there are fighting the good fight, trying to gently coax people to show them that indeed moving (stepping), even slowly, treating the escalator as an assist, will have multiple benefits.  But more importantly, spreading the word through action that there is something called escalator etiquette.