DC Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has a suggestion for all of us: don’t walk on the Metro escalator.General Manager Paul Wiedefeld is not talking about the times when Metro escalators are broken or turned off, which happens often. He means when an escalator is actually operational. Typically, Metro customers will either stand to the right or walk to the left while on the escalators. Wiedefeld wants that to stop. "We do not promote, obviously, the walking on the left. These are very sensitive pieces of equipment," he said while unveiling a new escalator at the Bethesda Red Line station. Kone, the company providing the Metro’s newest escalators, warns against walking on them because of the steps' height. The company argues that people are subconsciously trained to walk up stairs seven inches at a time, which is the average the step height in the United States. Escalator steps, however, are eight and a half inches tall. “The one-and-a-half-inch difference plays tricks on your subconscious mind and creates the trip-and-fall hazard,” a Kone spokesperson explained in a statement. Others point to studies showing that when escalator riders stand to one side, it can cause premature breakdowns. In China, passengers only recently adopted the etiquette of “stand on the right, walk on the left.” Chinese transportation officials noticed that as commuters began adopting the West’s escalator decorum, the machinery started breaking down because of additional wear to right side’s components. UK researchers Shivam Desai and Lukas Dobrovsky published a paper arguing that Metro customers can make it through turnstiles faster when all escalator riders stand still. The two estimated that 60 percent of riders stand and 40 percent choose to walk. The average walker makes it down the escalator and through the turnstile in 46 seconds, which totals to 138 seconds for a stander. Due to the fact that the walkers take up much more space than someone standing, that means fewer customers can use the escalator at once. The result is that escalators become less efficient and lines become longer.
The researchers found that if all of the space on an escalator was filled with standers, it would take less time for the average user to get to his or her train. Even more, an all-standing model ended up being just 13 seconds slower than walking up or down escalators. Considering that there are more than 748,000 DC Metro riders using the service every single day, even the slightest increase in efficiency could have significant impacts overall. This is especially true if walking on escalators is linked to more escalator downtime. Even with all of these findings, the Metro doesn’t expect people to change their habits anytime soon. "We prefer that they stand as they move up the escalator,” Wiedefeld concluded, “but also we know that people will do what they want to do.”