News abounds that London Underground is encouraging people to stand on both sides of the escalator.
Holborn tube station is testing the idea, with staff exhorting people to stand on both sides of the escalators to see if it can increase throughput of passengers leaving the station.
Peter McNaught, Operations Director for the Central line, said that “as part of a three-week trial to reduce queues and keep people moving through the station, we are encouraging customers to stand on both sides of the ‘up’ escalators during busy periods.”
“We believe this will increase the capacity of the escalators as more people will be able to board, preventing queuing at the bottom of the escalator.”
Now, as it happens, there’s science behind this, and that science is based on a study of encouraging people to stand on both sides — carried out in 2002, also at Holborn station.
Paul Davis of the London School of Economics and Political Sciences and Goutam Dutta of the Indian Institute of Management wrote a report on the capacity of escalators on the London Underground.
What they found was, that for a double escalator with a rise greater than about 18.5 metres, theory said that capacity would be greater if people could be encouraged to stand on both sides.
The question was whether theory and reality converged.
So, in 2002, the authors asked Holborn station to test the theory.
Unsurprisingly, the results are mixed, basically, because the great majority of people paid no attention to the customer announcement. It does after all sound a bit odd and counter intuitive.
On the two occasions when passengers were standing on both sides, they found that the standing side had nearly 50 passengers per minutes, whole the “walking” side averaged nearly 76 passengers per minute.
The increased capacity was more due to the walking side constantly shuffling forwards as people felt the need to walk and preferred to tut at people who stood.
Sadly, the report concluded that the 2002 experiment at Holborn was not successful in indicating what the capacity of an escalator would be if passengers were persuaded to stand on both sides for anything more than short periods of time.
Which brings us back to 2015, and time for another experiment.
Will be interesting to see the results in a few weeks time.
The report, Estimation of Capacity of Escalators in London Underground is available here.