Much has been written about Transport for London trialling standing-only escalators for London Underground passengers. As someone unfortunate enough to use the station hosting the experiment (Holborn) on a regular basis during rush hour, I can perfectly understand why TFL want to tackle congestion as a matter of urgency. And I can see where they’re coming from in that it’s farcical that so many passengers rush along the platform only to stop and queue to get onto the right of the escalator (turns out they weren’t in the hurry they made out they were in or else they’d walk up...)
All the coverage I’ve read, however, misses one key point. Is the average time it takes a passenger per escalator the only important factor in play? In my opinion, what matters most is not the average speed but the top speed one can reach using escalators - which, clearly, is considerably higher under the “stand on the right” status quo.
For thousands of tube users, having the option of going at top speed can be the difference between making it to a 9am meeting just in time and slightly late. Between making a train and missing it and having to spend a fortune on a new ticket now that "advance tickets" dominate UK rail travel, tripling stress. Between making and missing a flight. Between making it to and missing an event with a "no latecomers" policy.
A small change to the speed most people (those that stand) go at surely doesn’t make such a big difference to them - if they were in a hurry and every second really mattered, they wouldn’t just stand. As far as I’m concerned, people who can afford to wait to stand can be kept waiting 30% longer to protect the right of those who feel the need to to walk or run up. After all, most of those who queue to stand will, at some point, be among those who need to walk/run - we're broadly talking about the same people. Surely more than half of London Underground users have walked or run up escalators at least once. Haven't you?
There are things you can do to speed your journey up when you're in a hurry. My favourite is using the Tube Exits app, which tells you which carriage to board the train in to alight right by the exit. But, by commendably trying to address one problem - the congestion at stations like Holborn - their proposed solution threatens to create another, a greater one in my view.
A major cause of the congestion at Holborn is that, staggeringly, there’s just one exit from the Central Line platforms. Unless you've used the app and know where to board the train, it can take as long as two to three minutes just to leave the platform. Wouldn't it make more sense to divert resources wasted on this experiment into building another exit? What do you think?
PS. Before anyone comments, yes, I know TFL have now introduced a third "up" escalator at Holborn for those who want to walk, but how many stations have that luxury? That’s a response that would not be available at most stations; few have so many escalators.