It’s not your imagination. Some City Loop escalators are running slower in peak hour.
Normally: Fast in peak, slow off-peak
Normal practice (for decades now) is to run the Loop station escalators at a reasonable clip during peak hour, and set to slow down outside peak. This is pretty annoying for many of those catching trains at off-peak times.
Why slow them down outside peak? It’s not clear.
- Perhaps to save power – but isn’t the travel time of off-peak passengers important too?
- Perhaps some off-peak passengers are uncomfortable with the higher speed. But then, they have the option of lifts.
- Perhaps it’s one of those operational policies put into place in 1981 when the Loop first opened that’s never been reviewed.
Trialling slow speeds in peak
Anyway, just in the last couple of weeks Metro has been running the down escalators in peak at the slower speed at some stations.
They say it’s a trial to improve safety.
We’ve followed up with Flagstaff and a new escalator speed trial has begun at Flagstaff (and Parliament), designed to improve safety.— Metro Trains (@metrotrains) October 15, 2019
The trial will involve slowing the speed of downward escalators during peak periods to reduce the risk of slips, trips or falls.
My initial reaction to slower speeds: I wonder if it could backfire:
- The slower speed may encourage more people to walk on the escalator, increasing risk of a fall
- It’s a known problem that some people overbalance or suffer from vertigo while standing on escalators. Slower escalators means they’re on them for longer. Would this mean more risk?
A study of 600 escalator incidents over 9 years showed people were more likely to fall off escalators going up than down – but slowing upwards escalators in peak would cause capacity issues – see below.
To my surprise, I’m hearing that the initial results of the trial have been favourable.
But I guess we’ll see how it pans out.
Escalator capacity: walking vs standing
By the way, some people claim that everybody standing (nobody walking) on escalators is faster. I think that’s slightly misinterpreting the results from the well-known London Underground trial back in 2015.
What it does provide is more capacity – because standing people are more space-efficient than walking people.
But it’s only faster if having both standing and walking is resulting in queues at the entrance to the escalator – this could particularly be an issue if the majority of people want to stand.
Southern Cross is pretty bad for escalator crowding, especially during their frequent outages.
Of the underground stations, Parliament station might be the worst for escalator crowding, particularly during morning peak. (See above)
In most cases I’d rather walk, but there might be some justification at that location to encourage everybody to stand.
It’s probably easier to convince people to stand if the escalators are not running slowly. And the faster speed will clear any queues more quickly of course.
At the northern end of Parliament, it might also be an option to ask the small number of people entering in morning peak to use the lift down to the platform rather than the mostly empty third escalator – opening up more capacity for those exiting. (This may not be an option at other stations with higher proportions of interchange and counter-peak flows.)
The design, capacity and provision of escalators is no doubt being studied carefully for the new metro tunnel stations. You’d hope they will handle expected growth in coming decades, especially at Parkville which may become a future Metro 2 interchange.
But building more escalator and lift capacity into existing underground stations would be incredibly expensive – so in the City Loop, this is another case where it makes sense to look at operational practices to make the most of the current infrastructure.