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UK uses left-hand traffic. Traffic flows on the left side, people walk on the left. Is there any reason to stand on the right while using escalators?

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Hong Kong is interesting. Traffic on left. Influence of "The Raj" fading. Walkways in stations are marked with walk left arrows. China is walk right. The world is changing. In HK people seem confused which side of escalators to stand on. –  Russell McMahon Jan 26 '14 at 21:38
I was just thinking about this the other day... –  MarkE Jan 26 '14 at 22:32
@Flimzy, as there are three different answers I expect the answer isn't "completely obvious" –  Sam Jan 27 '14 at 8:02
This question appears to be off-topic because it is not about travel. You may consider committing to the Etiquette proposal. (Strictly speaking you're travelling up or down the stairs while on an escalator, but that's really stretching the definition of travel) –  gerrit Jan 27 '14 at 9:38
Brits, like we Australians, drive to the left of the centre line. We both park to the left and overtake to the right. With that in mind, it would be logical to stand to the left and overtake to the right, but not so in the UK. –  user10184 Jan 29 '14 at 9:16

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Why do people do it today? Because of the multitude of signs that say to do so!

If you're asking why it started, this BBC article holds what may be the answer...

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I moved to the UK for 4ish years back in 2007. In advance, I read the Wikitravel and Wikipedia articles to prepare a bit, and in one of them it mentioned that you stand on the right, and walk on the left. And I laughed and thought - 'no way would people actually follow that'.

Then I got to London, got my first barge done quickly when I was standing on the wrong side. I was amazed - could people really get upset about it?

Soon enough, and sure enough, it was me getting annoyed when I come across someone on the wrong side, and I'll admit to a bit of barging occasionally too. It's funny how quickly you adjust.

Now, as to the why? I also wondered at first - if you drive on the left, why not walk on the left?

And then it hit me, that's exactly what you're doing. Escalators, remember, aren't meant to substitute for walking, but to help. And you walk on the left, up the escalator. It's when you're NOT walking, that you stand on the right.

And that was how I rationalised it. After that, it worked fine in my head.

Now that a system is in place, as you mentioned it needs to make sense to others. Australia, for example has the reverse. And thus all the signs you'll see all over the tube - 'keep to the right', 'walk on the left' and so on.

And so society continues on.

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"it was me getting annoyed" - I now even get annoyed at people on pavements for being on the 'wrong' side ! –  Sam Jan 27 '14 at 8:00
In Australia we drive on the left but overtake on the right. So most people on the escalator are lazily "driving" at the speed of the escalator. People in a hurry can "overtake" them. Maybe we are lazier than English people or maybe their escalators are too slow? (-: –  hippietrail Jan 27 '14 at 8:11
In Austria (at least Vienna) people stand on the right side too but overtake on the left (just as in road traffic). –  Stockfisch Mar 22 '14 at 16:10

You're asking the question wrong.

"UK uses left-hand traffic." does road traffic sit stationary? No - it moves. We travel on the left. Period. If we're on the road, we go on the left. If we're walking down an escalator we walk down the left. However not everybody wants to walk (travel) on the escalator, so they stand aside (that being the right hand side), so movement can still carry on. The question is why do British walk on escalators when they could stand? But that's another question ;)

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But, why stand when you can power walk up the left, and practise your barging ;) –  Mark Mayo Jan 27 '14 at 8:09
For left-hand traffic, fast one uses right side (if you want to overtake you should use right lane). If you are walking, you are faster than stationary people. My logic works like that. –  ffstrm Jan 27 '14 at 22:31
@ffstrm Yes but there's no oncoming lane on an escalator –  Sam Jan 28 '14 at 7:39
I now prefer those tube stations which have a lift, escalators and stairs. The stairs are always empty so you can just run up or down them... –  Rory Alsop Jan 29 '14 at 10:57
The parked cars are on the left though, aren't they? :) So although the moving cars are on the left of the other moving cars, they're on the right of the stationary cars. –  starsplusplus Feb 6 '14 at 13:47

Please read the reply below from Mass Transit Railway Company of Hong Kong on this matter.

No doubt that it is irresponsible public behavior to walk on escalators, left or right. It is not an "etiquette" to be encouraged. Also see: http://www.welovedc.com/2010/07/20/dc-mythbusting-stand-to-the-right/

Dear Sir:

The Company at March 14, 2014 and 16 , respectively, received your fax and online feedback form , to comment on the MTR service , our reply is as follows :

First of all, thank you for your interest and valuable advice on the services provided by the MTR , we have conveyed your comments to relevant departments for reference .

To avoid escalator accident , the company has been encouraging passengers to stand still on using escalators, hold the handrail and not to move around. Regarding the escalator sign "walk on the left - stand on the right " , the company has not publicized it in the last two decades, which is in line with the guidelines issued by the EMSD Escalator Safety many years ago , which called for passengers not to walk on escalators. For details , you can refer to the guides issued by the Electrical and Engineering Service Department, Hong Kong, at the following web browsing: http://www.emsd.gov.hk/emsd/eng/pps/le_pub_su.shtml

In addition , the Company will annually through organizing various promotional activities to remind passengers to use the MTR service should pay attention to security matters , including the " escalator safety ", " security door sports ", " MTR Safety Month " and schools / community holding talks remind passengers safe and considerate , to avoid inconvenience to other passengers .

Thank you for your letter and support for MTR service again.

MTR Corporation Public Relations Manager - Customer Service March 21, 2014

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Hong Kong and the MTR may do as they please, but the question is about the London Underground. This is not a discussion forum, but a Q&A site. If you are new to Stack Exchange, I welcome you but encourage you to peruse the help center. –  choster Mar 22 '14 at 13:17

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