The ups and downs of escalators

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.
Escalators at Flagstaff station
Flagstaff station, evening peak. Note the skylarkers on the right. Safety first!

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.

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.

Queues for escalators at Parliament station
Parliament station, northern end, morning peak

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.)

Escalators at Parliament station
Parliament station escalators

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.


Something missed at PSO training? Stand on the left!

The first Protective Service Officers started duty tonight at Flinders Street and Southern Cross Stations. They may not be the best solution to public transport security, but I’m sure passengers will welcome them, and wish them luck.

Yes, PSOs get less training than police. That’s because they have more restricted powers (limited to railway stations and surrounds), and more restricted duties (they’re not going to go and investigate burglaries, for example).

But something their training should include — especially if they’re going to keep commuters on-side — is to stand on the left of the escalators.

Something missed at PSO training: Stand on the left of the escalators


Now there’s no excuse for not standing on the left of the escalators going into Parliament Station

Now there’s no excuse for not standing on the left of the escalators going into Parliament Station. Surely nobody could miss this new signage.

New escalator signage, Parliament Station

Mind you, “exit promptly” doesn’t really apply when you’re on your way in.

But full marks to Metro for addressing this problem here… now if they can get prominent signage into the rest of their stations that have escalators… and get the escalators running at faster-than-snail’s-pace speeds outside peak hours, too.

(Tipoff: bok_)


At last, escalator signage

Years ago there were “Stand on left / Walk on right” signs on the escalators at Melbourne’s underground stations.

They disappeared about ten years ago. While regulars know the etiquette, newbies and occasional users don’t, which causes frustration for those in a rush, particularly outside peak hours when the escalators (for some reason) run at an excruciatingly slow pace.

Now, at last, some action from Metro. Spotted at Flagstaff this morning:

New escalator signage, Flagstaff station

The next step, hopefully, is signage on the escalators themselves, where they’ll get noticed by the newbies… as well as perhaps something a little clearer in its intent.

It’s only a little thing, but it makes a big difference to regular train users.


One step closer to escalator victory

Seen at Flagstaff station:

Metro escalators sign

“Stand to the left of the escalator”…

Now to get signs saying that on the escalators themselves.