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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 16 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 (includes video) holds what may be the answer...

If if you've ever wondered why we do it, and why so many tourists get lost in translation, the answer may lie in a piece of film from the 1920s ... partly shot at Waterloo station and it was one of the first times the Tube system had appeared on film.

The escalator design had a diagonal step-off, clearly meant for the right foot first so standing on the right made sense.

(the video also includes clips of 1920s tube-escalator-ettiquette cinema humour such as a soldier tripping up at the bottom of an escalator because he's drilled to always march left foot first)

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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

Psychologically for right handed human beings it's a big thing to allow someone to stand on their right. Multiple researches have shown, that usually it is the person with superiority, that is allowed to stand on the right on the lesser "qualified" one. On the old continent, superiority is a big thing (especially in countries with long history such as the UK). This is why in most western civilizations you'll notice people protecting their right side and allowing more traffic on the left.

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Have you got any sources for this? – Phil May 25 at 16:07
Hi Phil, sorry for the late reply. I do indeed but it's all in printed textbooks. I tried searching online for information on this, but all sources are locked right after the intro of the book, since it's scientific research information (I am a psychology student). I am still trying to find info that doesn't require payment. Will post as soon as I do – N Alexander Jun 1 at 8:05

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