Escalating the debate on escalator etiquette

A long time ago, in a city far, far away from where I live now, I spent most of my teenage years hanging out with a raucous bunch of rascals whose idea of fun was to trick the proverbial runt of our litter into stepping on a “up” escalator while the rest of us stayed at the bottom, looking up at him with shit-eating grins and scampering away like mice as soon as he realized he’d been had for the nth time. It was almost comical, the way he’d look at us, slap his face with his palm, and run down in the most pathetic manner, desperately going against the flow of the steps that seemed to taunt him for being such a gullible fool.

A couple of years later, I found myself in the company of young adults who found it amusing to run up escalators going down and vice versa. To my recollection, I only participated in such atrocious behavior a couple of times, but I remember it clearly because I was scared shitless while we were doing it. Granted, no one forced me to do it with them, but you know how it is with big groups and bad decisions. Anyway, I think it was right after we saw Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Truly, there was no shortage of bad decisions on that day.

I also used to be friends with someone who would proudly tell anyone who’d listen about how he and his friends got themselves banned at a local mall because of their idiotic escalator antics. As students, they’d fall in line and board the escalator one by one, and upon reaching the end, the person in front would stand straight, hold their arms out, and basically block the way for everyone else. If you’re having trouble visualizing what I’m trying to say, imagine a cartoon caterpillar crashing face-first into a wall, folding into itself like an accordion. Because of the obvious danger this posed to literally everyone on those escalators, those young twits were rewarded with a stern scolding and a smack from the mighty banhammer.

At this point, I’m sure you’ve already noticed a trend here. (And no, it’s not that I progressively chose shittier friends as I grew older.) Now, I don’t mean to generalize, but after meeting three different groups of people in my admittedly short lifetime who have a similar level of respect (or lack thereof) for escalator etiquette, I’m inclined to say that quite a few people in this country don’t really give a damn about the idea.

Perhaps that’s why SM Supermalls’ recent push for escalator etiquette – “Stand on the right side, walk on the left side” – has been met with great enthusiasm by most netizens, but with general apathy from plenty of mall-goers. Online support hasn’t exactly been unanimous, either, with some vocal social media users criticizing the sudden imposition of this rule, citing its allegedly American roots (a misconception that I’d like to correct in a bit) and how it goes against the way most Filipinos behave when on the escalator. Some even proposed a radical alternative for people who are in a rush or want to walk up or down: stairs.

Quite frankly, it’s a bit disheartening (and somewhat ironic) to see that, after all of the seemingly endless #ChangeIsComing posts from a few months ago, the slightest hint of change in established routine – even if it’s done with the best of intentions and with everyone’s good in mind – triggers certain people so much that their impulse is to raise a stink about it by saying that we shouldn’t be apeing other countries’ rules on etiquette.

After countless (and ultimately fruitless) arguments involving Facebook users with dissenting opinions on everything from Bongbong Marcos’ claim that he won the vice presidential race (spoiler: he’s more full of shit than a sack of guano) to whether or not Batman v Superman sucks (spoiler: it does), I’m come to a realization: it’s difficult to convince the opposing party to change their mind if they don’t understand why or how they might be wrong. Or how the prescribed corrective behavior came to be in the first place.

So this time, let’s try a different tactic.

The practice of escalator etiquette has long been adapted in countries such as the United States, Australia (where they switch things around by standing on the left and walking on the right), Germany, Japan (although Tokyo follows Australian rules), and most recently, the Philippines.

However, traditional escalator etiquette is said to have originated in London, where the very first escalators installed in the London Underground were set up with a diagonal step-off point that made it easier to exit by stepping with the right foot first. This encouraged riders who wanted to stand in place to stay on the right side, in order to allow the folks who were in a rush to exit (without cutting the line of people waiting to get off) to walk on the left side.

Another possible explanation for this not-so-arbitrary choice of which side to walk vs. which side to stand still is that the British drive on the left, meaning it makes more sense for them to walk on the left side as well. Aside from the aforementioned exceptions, however, nearly all of the countries who practice escalator etiquette consider it standard procedure to walk on the left and stand on the right, regardless of which side their citizens typically drive.

Now that we know how it started, here’s the million-peso question: Why does escalator etiquette matter? Also, here’s the Php 500,000 follow-up: Why should we Filipinos bother following it?

The reason is simple, really.

Escalator etiquette has almost nothing to do with trying to ape other countries, and almost everything to do with not being an inconsiderate dick.

While you do have the right to enjoy the benefits of mechanical innovation and stand still on a staircase that handles the most challenging part of being on it for you, it also helps to bear in mind that the escalator wasn’t designed solely for the use of people who dislike the idea of walking.

The escalator is there to make things more convenient, not to encourage laziness.

Have plenty of time to spare? Go ahead and stand still – no one’s taking away your freedom to do so. All we’re asking from you is to leave enough room for folks who might be in a rush, or simply want to get to the next floor without being forced to wait behind someone firmly planted in the middle of the escalator.

It basically follows the same principle as walking along a narrow path or climbing up the stairs: You’re not the only person who needs to get from Point A to Point B, so by all means, do not position yourself as an obstacle. If you want to walk at a snail’s pace, don’t force other people to follow suit; if you want to stand on a moving escalator, don’t occupy two lanes when you can just stand on one.

Basically, don’t take up other people’s precious time, because that’s a valuable resource that they can never get back, and because YOU certainly wouldn’t want to be in a situation where you’ll end up missing an important deadline, a bus ride, or a store’s operating hours just because some oblivious jerkwad couldn’t take two seconds to give you enough space to pass.

Unless you’re a Balrog, of course, in which case you can’t. You just can’t.

“Ah,” the Anti-Escalator Etiquette Police reply, “but if you’re in such a rush, why don’t you go find the stairs and walk there instead?”

The thing is, standing on the right side of the escalator isn’t an unreasonable request. It doesn’t even require too much work on your part to stand on the right side, since you’ll still just be standing still, anyway. I mean, I’d understand your hesitation if proper escalator etiquette involved slaying a dragon, raising the dead, and sitting through 6 hours of the goddamned PPAP song on loop. But this? Minimal effort, maximum gain. Also, notice how the staircases in SM malls are typically located some distance away from where the escalators are? The amount of time it would take for a person to walk all the way to the stairs and then walk up would make walking up said stairs pointless to begin with, and is at least 3.35363754 times longer than it would take for you to be a decent human being.

In short, choosing to clear the way for people who want to walk is actually quite easy. All it takes is for you to stand. On. The right side. Of the escalator. It’s literally just a few inches away from the center, making you just a few inches away from not being an asshole. So why still choose to be one?

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