How to use an escalator in peak hour

Photo: Pat Scala

Photo: Pat Scala

Is there a more frustrating first world problem, pray tell, than being stopped in your tracks as you try and hotfoot it up the right side of an escalator in peak hour?

Well yeah, I guess there’s the task of shopping for jeans. Or watching the spinning “wheel of death” on your computer screen as it freezes right on deadline. Or maniacally jabbing the open button on a train door, only to watch it leave you in its wake.

Anyway to my mind, (and clearly that of my usually unflappable editor, who ordered 500 words minimum on this emotional topic) riding an escalator during peak hour has to rank right up there with the world’s most bothersome activities.

Why, why, why are humans so ridiculous when it comes to following – or rather, flouting – the escalator rules? How hard is it to stand on the left side of the escalator, and let everyone in a hurry scoot up the right?

“People are just busy and they’re in their own zone and they’re thinking about what they’re needing to do,” says etiquette coach Alana Lenart, founder of Etiquette Success. “It isn’t that people do it intentionally; they’re just off in their own little world.”

Though Lenart readily admits the practice also goes against her sensibilities.

“I would like to see people move to the side of an escalator because it does bother me as well,” she says. “They just get on and just stand in the middle.”

Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

Photo: Simon O’Dwyer

Add some mobile phones and a bunch of oversized suitcases and the whole sorry ordeal is akin to a travelling zombie delegation taking on the almighty obstacles of Australian Ninja Warrior.

When it comes to railways station escalators, public transport advocate Daniel Bowen reckons many locals – not just tourists – are simply not up to speed with the required etiquette.

“In years gone by, there were signs on all of the City Loop escalators that said ‘stand on left, walk on right’, which made it pretty clear. Nowadays signage 
is rare,” he says.

(Fun escalator fact: Bowen says that outside of peak hour, Metro Trains actually slows down station escalators, adding to frustration levels).

Meanwhile Lenart, citing the orderly behaviour on the escalators of the London Underground, suspects our escalator conduct might be a very Australian thing.

London’s escalator rules – stand on right, walk on left – are so ingrained that when a standing only trial was announced in 2016 for Holborn station (meaning commuters had to stand on the left AND the right) it led to a right old uproar. Granted, it was mostly from smart-arse Twitter users.

“Asking people to stand on the left goes against everything British. Plus we can’t shout at tourists anymore,” tweeted one. “First standing on both sides of escalator, then they’ll classify Jaffa Cakes as biscuits. We must resist,” chimed in another.

Back in sunny Melbourne, it seems there is only one collection of escalators that most commuters are happy to slow down on (at least as you descend into the earth’s depths). And that’s Parliament station, which, at the time of opening in 1983, boasted the longest escalators in the southern hemisphere.

Certainly I can’t be the only Melburnian who has jumped on these steel stair slides after an after-work tipple and wondered whether I’d still be alive at the bottom.

Good luck: The Parliament station escalator. Photo: Pat Scala

Good luck: The Parliament station escalator. Photo: Pat Scala

Across town at Southern Cross Station, during some early starts, I’ve been monitoring the escalator instincts of the 6.30am arrivals.

At that time of day, high-vis rules the roost. These crack of dawn tradie commuters aren’t mucking around with all this walk-halfway-up-and-then-stop-in-the-right-lane malarkey.

So what’s up with the peak hour crowd, and what should you do if someone stops your stride?

“Usually a polite “excuse me” is enough to encourage people to move
aside,” says Bowen. “Far better to ask than simply stand there fuming – and delaying everybody else behind you as well.”

Our etiquette coach agrees, saying there’s nothing nice about getting all aggressive and barging your way past.

“You’re sort of saying to them – ‘get out of the way, what are you doing that for?’” says Lenart. “The flip side is that those people who get on the escalator and just stand there, they’re just taking a moment to relax for a little bit.”

So in summary, stay on the left at all times unless you plan to move your limbs at a reasonable pace. And try not to cuss at that person with their head in the clouds, aka their mobile phone.

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