People using both sides of the escalators as part of a continuous improvement experiment.
11 Jun 2018

Standing still to speed up

Chas Goldring Manager - Continuous Improvement

Have you been to Holborn Underground station or more precisely have you been to the escalators that lead up from the Central Line?

Recently, I visited London with my wife and boys to watch the Saracens V Harlequins Rugby Union game at the Olympic Park. Other than the monstrosity that is the central monument in the park, the whole park is built with British Steel and primarily steel sourced from Scunthorpe and Teesside. This is a source of great pride for myself (though my boys tend to get bored with me examining the steel work and head for the bar!)

During the game, I suggested to my wife that we go to Holborn Underground station as it is only a few stations from Stratford.

“Why!” she cried (and I suspect most of you are also asking that question). I think Harrods rather than Holborn was probably her venue of choice.

Interestingly (for those into flow and efficiency), London Underground carried out a number of trials at Holborn to see how they could reduce congestion at the bottom of the escalators, improve flow (and hence customer experience) and improve safety.

They came up with the novel idea of asking people to stand (rather than walk) on both sides of the escalators. Now in London this is almost tantamount to a crime. Stand on the left of the escalator and you are likely to be trodden under foot or at the very best be abused by someone.

However, London Underground proved that by asking people to stand they improved the capacity on the escalator and hence improved the flow of people, reducing congestion at the bottom. Why? Because moving people take up more space on the escalator than static ones. As most people want to stand still then they are queued on the right hand side whilst there is still plenty of space on the left.

Sounds daft, but by slowing people down, they actually speeded them up. This is not dissimilar in principle to the SMART motorways slowing cars down to reduce congestion or traffic cops telling you to use both sides of the carriageway rather than join the queue immediately prior to any coning on a motorway.

Interestingly, on shorter escalators where people are more likely to walk on both sides, they found no improvement.

There is a brilliant video which shows this trial in action.

However, I wonder if they have managed to break the cultural habit of walking on the left and forcing people to stand. Something that is almost ingrained in all Londoners from birth! And strangely (given the cosmopolitan nature of London) is learnt very quickly by everyone, whatever their cultural heritage.

I never did get to visit Holborn Underground station (my wife rules in our household!)

So...has anyone recently been to Holborn and do they still ask you to stand on the left and right?


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