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Ken’s View: Buddy, Can You Spare 13 Seconds?

By Kenneth W. Betz, Senior Editor

I was scanning the headlines not long ago for some news that wasn’t political or overly controversial when I came across an item about a study that sought to determine if walking or standing on escalators was more efficient.

OK, that’s interesting and it can’t arouse too many passions, I reasoned. Wrong. Only a few days went by until the story was picked up by several who indeed had a very strong opinion about it. “Monsters” one writer called escalator standees. He or she then proceeded to castigate standees for being inconsiderate, not decent human beings, and (gasp) misguided. Those denunciations fall considerably short of the monster allegation of the headline, but this is the Internet after all; headlines are seldom well supported by content.

Our intrepid writer stumbled on, even admitting that standing, taken in the aggregate, might have an advantage over walking — but insisting that didn’t necessarily make it better. Huh? Then why was walking better? The author seemed unable to say, babbling only that the walkers hadn’t read the research and were enraged because some “jerks” were in their way. He or she then quoted Jerry Seinfeld, the guy who once did a TV show about nothing. Seinfeld’s reasoning was that since there are no talking bears and singing pirates to see, escalator users should just move on. Thanks, Jerry. Great insight.

The author, and Seinfeld, quite overlooked that many people may have very good reasons for standing. Perhaps they have asthma or a heart condition. Maybe a bum knee or a bad back. Maybe they’re just really, really tired from working three jobs to make ends meet. Or listening to people who think Jerry Seinfeld is an expert on anything. Who knows? Should not they be as entitled to stand as walkers think they are to walk?

The one argument people make for walking is that it is faster — for the walkers, that is. It slows everyone else down. More about that in a moment; don’t be impatient. It’s like those people whom I wrote about some months back who “hated” revolving doors and so avoided using them. No logical explanation was forthcoming about why they “hated” the doors, but I’m now betting that they perceived that the doors slow them down.

That brings up another point. Are you seriously in that much of a hurry that a few extra seconds on an escalator is going to make that much of a difference in your day? Are you that tightly wound? Here’s an idea. Perhaps you should get up 15 minutes earlier, not dawdle around checking Facebook and Twitter, and not stand in line to order that fussy, overly expensive cup of coffee. There you go. Problem solved. Now you have plenty of time to stand comfortably on the escalator, take a few deep breaths, and not annoy other people with your overly aggressive, me-first attitude.

Yes, you annoy other people. While you say that standees make you angry, you don’t consider for a moment that you’re in the minority, selfishly expecting the majority to get out of your way. One study showed that an average of 75% of escalator users stand, while the walkers comprise only 25% of users. What’s more, most of the standees have been conditioned to stand to the right, leaving the left side of the escalator open for walkers — who somehow feel entitled to this courtesy.

Are you ready for what’s really at stake here? Thirteen seconds, that’s what. According the New York Times, a London Underground study showed that when 40% of the people walked (still not a majority), the average time for standees was 138 seconds and 46 seconds for walkers. On the other hand, when everyone stood, the average time fell to 59 seconds. Walkers lost 13 seconds but standees gained 79 seconds. Researchers also found the length of the line to reach and step onto an escalator dropped to 24 people from 73.

Who’s the monster now? Who’s inconveniencing whom? You walkers can’t afford to give up 13 seconds for the common good? And don’t tell me you’re doing it for the exercise. It’s still self-centered, and if it were true, you’d use the real stairs or go to the gym.

Will walkers be swayed by studies, statistics, facts, or perhaps civility? Almost certainly not, unless it’s proven there really are talking bears stationed along escalator routes.

But I do have a suggestion to make escalators more efficient. Do away with the double-wide moving stairs and make them single-lane models. It might be a bit more costly, but that way there will be no “walking lane,” and those who insist on walking will have to use the actual stairs as nature intended. — Kenneth W. Betz, Senior Editor

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