We Can’t Be Happy Underground

A story in Saturday’s Guardian about a Transport for London trial of getting commuters to stand on both sides of the escalators at Holborn tube station, rather than standing on the right and walking on the left, has drawn a pretty predictable response from the British commentariat. “Over my dead body, which I will position at the foot of the escalators just to make my outrage felt” seems to be the gist of it. I kept an eye on this Mefi thread about the trial because I knew that watching London Mefites turn a virtual shade of purple at the very idea would be online entertainment of the first order.

So, we have a trial that demonstrated that this simple change increased peak-hour carrying capacity by almost 30%. We can assume that the only other way to achieve that would be to build 30% more escalators in the affected stations, at a cost of many millions of pounds that we keep being told we don’t have, with endless disruptions to commuters during their contruction, which would more than cancel out a lifetime’s worth of whatever time-savings they get by being able to walk up the left now and again. Even those time-savings must be illusory, though, if the gain in being able to walk up the escalators is more than cancelled out by being stuck in a crowd at the bottom of them first, as it must be if the throughput under current arrangements is 20% less.

But we will now spend that extra money, at enormous cost to the nation and inconvenience to Londoners themselves, because having to stand behind someone when you’re trying to get somewhere is unconscionable. Evidence-based policy meets an unstoppable force, and stands on the right to keep out of its way.

19 January 2016 · UK Culture