But are people willing to undo the long-running social custom of only standing on one side of an escalator?

Like many countries, Japan has an unwritten rule that those who are willing to ride an escalator by standing still should keep to one side, while people in a rush who want to climb the moving steps are allowed access on the other side.

This is a rather mysterious custom that some say began during the 1970 Osaka Expo, but no one knows for sure. Interestingly enough, different parts of the country have come to designate either the left or the right for standing, making it really easy to spot tourists.

But now, the Tokyo Metropolitan Physical Therapy Association and Japan Elevator Association want to put an end to all of this, citing safety and inefficiency as major flaws in the system.

By putting up posters in Tokyo’s Nerima Station this summer they have tried to raise awareness to the benefits of standing on both sides of an escalator.

While the posters highlight the dangers of walking on escalators and the nuisance it can cause by hitting people you walk past, these groups are hoping people will appreciate that standing actually makes more people get to the top faster than the current method.

They cite London’s Holborn Station Experiment in which escalators where made to be standing only on both sides so that passenger flow could be analyzed. As a result they found that about 30 percent more people could pass through when people stood on both sides compared to having only standing people on one side.

On the surface it makes sense, by putting the majority of standing escalator riders to one side, a lot of valuable space is wasted. However, these results depend on various factors such as the size of the escalator and flow of people. In cases of shorter escalators, standing both sides can turn out to be less efficient.

Also, even though everyone is getting to the top faster when standing on both sides, those who either want or need to get to the top faster to catch a train, get to a restroom, or whatnot are greatly slowed down. This means that the people who benefit from this efficiency aren’t necessarily the ones who are looking for it.

During the Nerima Station campaign, passengers were asked how they felt about standing on both sides of an escalator, with greatly mixed responses. Those opposed to it tended to frequent busier stations while those in favor of it tended to have elderly or physically challenged family members.

This brings us to the most important motivation for this campaign and the reason standing on both sides should be mandatory everywhere. Some people can’t easily stand on one side only due to injuries or paralysis from strokes, Parkinson’s disease or a variety of other reasons. Being forced to stand on a side that requires them to use the affected parts of their body while other people constantly brush past them can turn a simple ride into a stressful nightmare.

This is sure to be a problem when the 2020 Paralympics comes to Tokyo, and with it a wide range of differently abled people hoping to get around in relative peace. So, if you want to help, get out there and be that “jerk” who blocks the walking lane on your local escalator. In doing so you can combine the fun of anti-social behavior with the joy of helping improve accessibility in your community!

Especially in Japan, where train schedules can be brutally precise, it’s hard not to sympathize for people who are in a hurry at stations. But for those people, stairs are usually available and a great way to get a quick work-out. Meanwhile, those who can’t take advantage of the free exercise can still get to where they’re going a little faster and much more comfortably, and then everyone wins.

Source: Norimono News, Londonist
Top image: JR East
Insert Images: PR Times, Mori