So you've stabbed a commuter...

SO YOU'RE late for work and your colleagues have already rung you to find out why you’ve missed the 7AM meeting. Your alarm clock didn’t go off, the buses were running slow and the trains just weren’t turning up. You finally get to the train station, where there’s just you and the crush of people between you and getting to work so you don’t lose your job. If you make it within the next five minutes, you should be able to slink in without too much fuss but any later and the ire of the boss will be well and truly raised. The throng of people are bottlenecked at the escalator. Why? What’s the hold up? As it turns out, some goofball has decided that standing on the right hand side of the escalator is a good idea.

If you snapped and stabbed the goofball right now, you’d probably get away with it because amongst the hundreds of commuters in your predicament, 99 out of 100 would agree with your actions. Every single day, this scene is repeated and serial escalator offenders go on living. Is there no justice? More to the point, why is such a minor thing got me thinking about homicide?

The proper escalator etiquette is something that has been traditionally understood, but never really laid out in any concrete fashion. So, what are the rules which dictate our position on the escalator?

In most countries around the world, the rules adhere to the road rules in that country. For example, in the US, you generally try to stick to the right if you’re standing still and leave the left side free for those of us who like to walk on escalators. The opposite applies to us down here in Australia. For those in Britain though, the road rules are reversed, and this oddity can be traced back to when escalators first operated in the UK.

Instead of the end of the stairway being straight, as it is today, the end of the stairway used to be at a diagonal with the right hand side coming before the left which made stepping off the with right foot a logical choice. Those who wanted to stand on the escalators, stood on the right hand side to make this transition easier while those who wanted to walk were asked to go to the left hand side in order to make use of the extra escalator room to step off with their left foot. Eventually, the older-style escalator went out of style but the rules still stuck with denizens of the tube.

So if you ever go to London and have the gall to stand on the left hand side, expect vitriol. I’m talking about the football-hooligan/chav style vitriol, not that quaint upper-class quiet cough kid of vitriol.

Of course sometimes it's just better to take the stairs

So now you know about the behaviour expected of you when you’re travelling alone on the escalator, but what about travelling with your partner or a bunch of people? There’s nothing worse in life than being late to a meeting and having giggling teenagers blocking your way while they talk about Twilight, jellybeans and the boys they like. Seriously, even walking over hot coals is a less traumatic experience. If you’re in a group of people, you should at least attempt to keep left. If you all can’t fit on the left hand side, we understand. We won’t hate you, but only if those left on the right hand side of the escalator keeps a look out for those wanting to pass on the right hand side. If they someone wants to pass, they should try to lean out of the way, to leave a little room on their right hand side for overtaking.

The same rule applies to couples. I know you’re in love and want to hold each other’s hands while insisting the other one is cuter than the other but for a few seconds at least, stand to the left in single file.

We’ve covered which side to stand on, but what about the other rules governing the laws of the escalator ride?

For one thing, a two-step minimum should be kept between you and the person standing in front of you. There’s nothing quite like having a mouth-breather stand right behind your neck so close that you can actually feel their breath on the nape of your neck. It just makes the journey that much more pleasurable if we all respect each other’s personal space.

In terms of traffic flow, the one cardinal rule which should be adhered to by all who wish to ride the escalator has to do with getting on and getting off.

You see, people generally use the escalator as a means to an end. It’s faster than the stairs, so the majority of people you see on them wish to take advantage of this speed. Make sense? So when you start to get onto the escalator, don’t dawdle. Make sure that your forward momentum is maintained, so the pack behind you doesn’t get thrown, and try to get on as soon as possible to reduce the waiting times form other escalator travellers. The same goes for getting off the escalator.

You don’t want a bottleneck at the end of the escalator, as that’s a recipe for people who were travelling at a constant speed to have to slow down. When that happens, the pack behind you is thrown ever so slightly, and when that happens, the chances of somebody falling over on the escalator are increased.

When somebody falls over, all bets are off and the destruction of society is surely not far behind. Okay, so maybe it’s not as dramatic as that but if you follow these few simple rules when travelling on escalators everybody’s journey is going to be just that little bit smoother. More importantly though, you won’t get punched in the back of the head by a commuter who’s been pushed to the edge, and not being punched in the back of a head is a good thing.

- James McGrath


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