You’d be forgiven for not knowing exactly what the Holborn escalator trial was, particularly if you never go through Holborn, and especially particularly if you never go through Holborn tube station.
Basically, last year (following a smaller test in 2015), Holborn decided that NO, you are not allowed to walk up/down the left side of the escalators – everybody has to stand. This was trialled for six months, and yeah, pretty much everyone hated it. But there was a reason for doing this, and the results are now in, courtesy of a freedom of information request from Gizmodo.co.uk – so let’s take a look.
Obviously, when coming up with this plan, TFL were not necessarily thinking about you, in that very particular, sweaty, panicked moment last Monday when you were late for your first day of work, because you 100% needed to run up the left side otherwise you were going to get the sack. What TFL was trying to do, was to decrease overall congestion; so come on, they do sort of have your best interests in mind.
Proof: have you ever got to a tube station to see that the gates are shut even though they should be open? Yes you have, and that’s because too many people are in the tube station at one time, so they have to employ “station control” measures to let it calm down. This is also annoying when you are late for your first day at work, so it’s very much related.
So what they did at Holborn, the 14th busiest tube station, was trial a system so that you weren’t allowed to move (well, walk) on specific escalators. They did this for six months and finally they’ve worked out if it was all worth it.
Essentially, it was. Holborn has the second longest escalator on the tube (behind Angel), so people can’t really be arsed to walk up it, unlike shorter escalators, like Canary Wharf, where a similar study was carried out in 2015. Obviously, as more people are willing to walk up a shorter escalator, making everyone stand reduces the total capacity over time. London is full of lazy bastards though, so Holborn had the opposite effect – the left side is pretty much wasted most of the time.
The one escalator at Holborn that allowed you to walk up the left side during the trial had a total of 115 passengers per minute, but the standing-only ones knocked that up to 151. This was only the case during peak times though – when you’ve got under 100 people on the escalators, it doesn’t really make much difference. Either way, introducing standing-only escalators meant that they only had to SHUT THE GODDAMN GATES AAAHHH once during the trial, whereas it was happening almost daily before.
But reducing congestion wasn’t the only aim behind the experiment. TFL also wanted to test how easy it was to alter commuter behavior, which is a tad scary, no? It aimed to check how easy it is to implement rules and whether stubborn Londoners would actually follow them. It appeared that also worked to some extent, so don’t be surprised if next time you’re heading up the escalator, you’re mysteriously rubbing your belly with one hand and tapping your head with the other.
Of course, the discrepancy between stations means that standing-only should only really be implemented in certain places, which makes the whole “rule-making” process a lot more difficult – a blanket law (and the stay-on-the-right rule is a law) is much easier to follow. Confusing the public could cause the tube to descend into chaos, or at least see a 300% increase in the tut-and-sigh index across London.
Really though, pull your fingers out London – if you can walk up it, fucking walk up it.