A Place to Stand, Revisited

Some time ago, I wrote about the disappearance of “Walk Left, Stand Right” on TTC escalators and the cock-and-bull story the TTC puts out on why such an unusual burst of efficiency was launched to remove all of these overnight.

The latest installment in this saga is a new brochure that has shown up on TTC vehicles called the Escalator Safety Guide.  Notable by its absence in this guide is any reference to walking on escalators.  Indeed, we are told:

Escalator steps are not the correct height for normal walking and should not be used in that manner. The risk of tripping and falling is greatly increased.

I would have more faith in this statement if the escalators I use regularly were actually running.  In many locations, walking to an alternate route either requires a considerable detour, or the available stairs are incapable of handling the demand in both directions.  People walk on escalators whether they are stopped or running, and the TTC should get used to it.

Later, the brochure goes on, in the best TTC tradition, to blame customers for all of their problems:

Many escalator incidents are due to:  falls, resulting from the rider losing balance;  entrapment in the mechanics of escalators caused by clothing, footwear or suitcases; and use of mobility devices or strollers.

Strollers and the like are supposed to use the elevators, if you can find one, and it’s working that day.

But bless the TTC.  One of their great traditions is the preservation of old signs, and they even manage to do this online.  There is an Escalator Safety Poster (I passed FIVE of them leaving Broadview Station) linked from the Safety page on their website.

The third bullet, complete with illustration, is “Stand Right”!

13 thoughts on “A Place to Stand, Revisited

  1. I was very skeptical, just like you, that an escalator’s rise and run would be that much different from other standards for stairs, but since I haven’t taken a close look at escalator specifications before, I decided to go do a little research, and it is true, the escalator steps have a rise higher than normal – and higher than permitted by code for regular stairs. An escalator can have a rise of upto 240mm per step, compared to regular stairs’ maximum of 200mm, but on average this is probably in the nighborhood of 150mm-185mm. So, while I agree that the statement sounds absurd at first glance, I concede, it appears to be technically accurate. Rise plus run (in mm) should equal 440, for what one of my instructors called “a happy set of stairs”, and escalators will definately not conform to that formula. Most stair designs do meet the 440 combination and thus human beings are conditioned to be used to and most comfortable with such designs.

    That said, I don’t agree with the TTC’s little escalator safety strategy here, I find it rather childish and immature. Whatever lawsuit is at the root of it, all I can say is if you’re too stupid to ride an escalator, then you’re certainly far too stupid to ride a subway.

    I can’t help but connect this escalator game with the 100% low-floor streetcar requirement. Coincidence?


  2. Don’t they turn off certain escalators at the Bloor/Yonge station for the express purpose of allowing passengers to walk up and/or down, due to the overcrowding of that station?


  3. I took the time to go back and read the other two screeds regarding this issue. Apart from the dripping sarcasm and overuse of words like “bogus” (what its this, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Transit Blog?), there was little of value.

    Yes, this is a liability issue. You mention how many lawsuits went through against the TTC (138). I don’t know where that figure was gleaned from, but it certainly doesn’t come close to the number of out-of-court settlements the TTC writes off each year. That’s the way the Commission prefers to do it, since court proceedings are extremely expensive. It’s become an easy way for hucksters to grab a few thousand easy bucks.

    The best and most assured way of getting that easy money without the tiresome business of going to court is when engaged in behaviour WE have instructed them to do. By way of example: if, after servicing a stop, an operator sees someone jigging from foot to foot on the opposite corner, we are trained to proceed, NOT to wait. The reason, you might be surprised to learn, is not because we are mean-spirited, cruel or bogus. It is not because we LIKE leaving people behind. It is because if we wait or, God forbid, beckon that person forward, they will step out into traffic, eyes glued to the driver instead of on the road around them, and they will get creamed by a passing car. Then, later in hospital, when asked why the stepped out in front of the car, they will say “The TTC driver TOLD me to!” Then the lawyers take over. So we don’t beckon them forward. We don’t wait. We leave. The alternative is too dangerous and too expensive.

    Same goes for escalators. Until the “walk left” signs went down, each time someone fell while walking on an escalator, they could and DID point to the sign and say they were following OUR instructions? Time for a juicy settlement.

    So here’s the deal, Steve. Walk left. Go for it. As you have so observently pointed out, the policy still says “Stand Right”, so the implication that you can walk left is still there. What is not there is OUR instructing you to do so. Therefore, if you fall it’s your own lookout.

    We live in a world where they actually have to tell people to close the cover before striking the match. They actually have to put “Contents HOT” on a cup of coffee. Similarly, we have to have a stupid escalator policy that covers the Commission’s liability. You can blame us, or you can blame a litigious society full of opportunists trying to scam from an agency they feel has bottomless pockets.

    Remember that all settlements for such claims come from two sources: YOUR fares and YOUR taxes. So by all means walk left. But you didn’t hear that from me…


  4. The best application of the “Escalator Safety Guide” is its unintended ironic humor value. As an example, under “Escalator Myths and Truths”, we read (and I am not making this up):

    “Myth: The steps will flatten out and all the people will slide down.

    “Truth: This is impossible. Each step is a full triangular structure consisting of tread and riser supported on a track and cannot flatten out.”

    Thanks for clearing that up, TTC!


  5. Steve,

    Have you ever taken the subway to Don Mills Station?

    There is the escalator (if you are on the front end of the train), that most of the time is OFF, during rush hour, when I come home at 10pm from work/school, it is RUNNING.

    A few subway drivers mentioned that they have to get a supervisor to come with a special key to turn them on.

    Ok I know it’s mostly highschoolers who turn them off, we all did some mischief and stuff like this. You know how the stop buttons have a cover that when you lift them they have this buzzer start making the buzzer noise? Now they removed the covers.

    How come the TTC management can’t give the staff at stations the key so they can turn the escalators on?

    It would be easier and quicker for me to get a key to George W. Bush’s personal WC at the White House than a key being available to solve the escalator issue.

    Steve: This is one of those interesting issues where a combination of bafflegab and real problems overlap. In some cases, an escalator is genuinely stopped because one of its safety trips has kicked in. In this case, in cannot be restarted without an escalator mechanic checking to see what is wrong.

    Having said that, if someone just used the “stop” button, that shouldn’t require an emergency call. As a general practice, anyone such as a collector or a route supervisor should be able to restart an escalator. If they try and it won’t go, then it really is a safety issue. Of course, in most stations, the escalators are miles from the collector’s booth and they are in no position to restart the machines.

    We all know escalators that are problem children. If they really are shutting down because “vandals” are pressing the manual stop, then that’s not a safety issue, and there’s no reason for leaving them stopped. The “safety” and “mischief” excuses for stopped escalators are contradictory, and the TTC needs to ensure that an escalator doesn’t stay stopped for hours just because someone messed with the “stop” button.


  6. I forgot to mention the fact that both the station’s collector and the maintenance worker have a key that can not only restart a stopped escalator, but can even change the direction to accommodate the majority passenger flow. I’ve used this key myself, on loan while working crash gates at St. Patricks.

    The trouble is, if the collector goes to restart the escalator, he leaves his booth unmanned, allowing lost fares from people just walking in and causing inconvenience to people wanting to purchase tickets, tokens and passes. It can be quite counterproductive for the collector to be running back and forth to restart an escalator (only to have it re-stopped by schoolkids or other wags), especially during busy times when the escalator is most needed.

    Of course the collector could contact the maintenance guy. Hopefully, he’s around to address the problem. However, since the “efficiency measures” in the maintenance department, announced by Mr. Giambrone last year and one of the major triggers of last year’s oh-so-unpopular wildcat strike, the maintenance guy is now covering three stations so there’s a 66% chance that he is not even at the station with the stalled escalator.

    My thinking is, however, if someone notices a stopped elevator that hasn’t been fenced off or otherwise marked with an “out of order” sign, that person could try bringing it to the attention of the collector. If this is done with a certain amount of basic civility, chances are the collector will get to the problem just as soon as he can.

    Another thing that might help would be if people reported the punk kids who think it’s such a lark to press the stop button. God knows people have unlimited space on their phone/cameras any time an operator does so much as pick his nose. The same vigilence from the public on this and the myriad other forms of vandalism that take place on the system every day would go a long way towards addressing this issue.

    Steve: I’m with you right up to the last paragraph when, in what sounds distressingly like TTC management fashion (grin), you imply that some vigilant member of the public is always there, camera at the ready, to catch someone who stops an escalator. By implication, the fact that someone didn’t do this justifies the hundreds if not thousands of people forced to walk up the escalator or a long way out of their way to an alternate path such as an elevator.

    It’s the TTC’s job to run service. This means that despite the weather, the traffic and the pesky passengers, many of us depend on that service being there, including the escalators. Blame us and you’re just doing the same thing as those who flame all operators for the sins of the few bad apples.


  7. Oh dear, another comparison to management. 😦

    I don’t think trying to examine one of the root causes of a problem as either making excuses or ascribing blame. The sad fact is these stationary escalators are the result of punk kids pressing the stop button. Short of installing video cameras or stationing a special constable on each escalator, I fail to see what the Commission can do beyond what they are already doing — turning the things back on as duties permit.

    I was merely offering up some possible strategies those who are being inconvenienced by this problem might explore beyond simply complaining. And yes, more and more often these days, there is in fact a vigilent member of the public with a camera phone at the ready. Many operators are disciplined based on submitted amateur video. It’s a shame that attacking the TTC for its problems, as opposed to helping it to address them, is the only way this technology is being applied.


  8. Excluding Eglinton, this will be one the areas where TC will shine bright compared to its big-brother subway: No escalators.


  9. I have to take issue with Steve’s interpretation of Driver Bob’s suggestion that the public could be more helpful as “blaming the public”.

    While it is true that the TTC exists to provide a service, it is a public service and the public should play an important role in being eyes and ears when possible.

    Case in point: a couple of years ago, I was awoken at 5 am by the sound of an air-blast fuse blowing on the power lines outside of our home. It knocked out our power, but I figured it would be fixed in an hour or two and we would have power by the time we would get up at 7. At 7, the power was still off and there was no truck by the pole with the blown fuse, so I called the utility company. When I got through to them, I was told that I was the second to call in, the first was someone at the school up the road who had just arrived to find the power off. The point is, don’t assume that the operator (utility company in this example, or the TTC with escalators) automatically knows about a problem, or that someone else will report it. If you are thinking someone else will report it, someone else will likely be thinking the same thing.

    One other point I would like to mention is that of the perception issue. While I understand that in most circumstances there is only one collector and the maintenance person only spends one-third of the time at a given station, there are the odd situations where there is more than the lone employee at a station. While this is likely to be the exception rather than the norm, it must be acknowledged that if the public sees a situation where there clearly is someone who could restart an escalator who is not doing so, even if this is only one in twenty out-of-service escalator situations, the perception is that they don’t care, are lazy, or there is some bureaucratic issue at play (no one having reported the issue notwithstanding).

    A sad but true reality: the negatives are remembered ten times more vividly than the positives.

    Steve: The point I am making is that the people who are inconvenienced, or worse, by non-working escalators are not the same people who might or might not take a picture of some miscreant stopping the escalator. Using myself as an example, I do not carry a device capable of taking photos, and I have never seen someone stop an escalator as a prank. However, I have been on several escalators that stopped of their own accord while I was riding them, and know that certain machines are “problem children” that stop on their own far more frequently than can be explained by “punks”.

    Like “traffic congestion”, “punks” are a catch-all phrase the TTC uses to shift responsibility for actually keeping its equipment operating to some vague “other” over whom they have no control.

    As for people telling the Collectors that an escalator is stopped, they shouldn’t have to. There is an annunciator in the booth that tells the collector when a machine is stopped. Moreover, if the public did tell the Collector, even politely, the likely response would be a shrug and a message that nobody will be available to fix it soon. The Collectors have their own experience with maintenance staff not being available for long periods due to staff cuts.


  10. It’d be nice if escalator controls could be routed into the collector booth’s themselves, but that’s not realistic, I’d imagine.

    Steve: Restarting the escalator remotely is not a good idea. Whoever is doing this needs to be able to see and hear what is going on, and also to block access to the escalator so that nobody is walking up or down when the machine restarts.


  11. “Escalator steps are not the correct height for normal walking and should not be used in that manner. The risk of tripping and falling is greatly increased.”

    Presumably we’re meant to levitate over CLRV/ALRV front and rear steps. They have a lot of rise for relatively little run — the problem of crowding two steps into a limited space.


  12. Steve said: “There is an annunciator in the booth that tells the collector when a machine is stopped.”

    Oh dear. That’s the kind of bold assertion that simply cries out for independant factual verification by someone with insider connections — a little service I’m only too happy to provide.

    In the course of my duties, I’ve looked in on the collector’s booths at Greenwood and Spadina stations. I have also had a chat with a fellow operator who used to be in Collectors.

    The operative verb in the sentence above must be changed to a past tense. There was/used to be annunciator panels of the kind you describe. They are either no longer present or no longer functional in the booths and this has been the state of affairs for years. Collectors must indeed rely upon the kindness of strangers to make them aware of stopped escalators. Which leads to the next statement…

    Steve also sed: “Moreover, if the public did tell the Collector, even politely, the likely response would be a shrug and a message that nobody will be available to fix it soon.”

    This is sadly true, because collectors are no longer authorized to restart escalators. Here is a synopsis of the TTC policy on the issue (oh, yer gonna love this):

    When a collector is made aware of a stopped escalator, he is to notify CIS immediately. CIS will then prioritize and dispatch a supervisor, a maintenence staff member, or both to examine the stopped escalator and determine the cause of stoppage. If the cause is fairly straightforward, the escalator will be re-started. If not, not.

    OK, is everybody shaking their heads in wonderment at the assinine stupidity of the TTC now? Then I’ll tell you why the policy exists as it does. Wait for it… it’s our old friend Mr. Legal Liability!

    In the past, escalators halted by an accident or a fall or some other litigious occurrance have been restarted unknowingly by collectors before the litigant victims had gotten all their legal ducks in a row. These cases went badly for the Commission because the collector was perceived in court as having “tampered” with evidence and “interfered” with an investigation. So now every time an escalator is stopped, the *cause of stoppage* must be offically determined and recorded before a restart is permissable.

    Does this make sense? If we look at the budget info Steve posted the other day and focus on the section regarding no fault settlements and insurance costs, one has to pause. No fault claims up by 10%? No fault costs up by 25%? As compared to my wage increases of 2.75%, 3% and 3.25% which, for reasons I can’t imagine, everybody chose to focus upon.

    Now… here’s the tricky bit. Is it possible for us to admit in this instance that there are, indeed, certain vicissitudes over which the TTC has no control and therefore must perforce alter its policies in unpopular, counter-productive and even bizzarre ways — in this case to please lawyers, insurance companies and those intrepid entrepreneurs who see an escalator or a patch of water on the platform as a financial opportunity?

    So ok. Traffic congestion on Queen street is an urban myth. Similarly, there are no punk kids. The tens of thousands of schoolkids who ride the TTC each and every day are good lads and lasses who never think of vandalizing or otherwise playing silly buggers with the equipment. Fine. I cannot actually disprove these assertions here at this time.

    But really. Throw me a bone on this one?

    Steve: Thank you for this info. Another one of those wonderful TTC systems where maintenance just stopped and nobody seemed to care. I am waiting for the day when we have a two-hour subway delay because someone was caught in the doors, and we have to “preserve the evidence”.

    I said it before and I will say it again: escalators and elevators are an essential part of accessibility in our transit system, and it is the TTC’s job to make them work, not to concoct excuses for them being stopped. Indeed, if every stoppage were a punk, where are all those accidents that we’re protecting evidence for?

    With respect to Queen Street, I didn’t say there is no congestion, and as you will see in a post likely to go up over the weekend, I can demonstrate quite clearly where and when it occurs. The problem is that it doesn’t work on Queen (or King whose congestion data hasn’t gone up yet) quite the way people who advocate various transit priority schemes think it does. Moreover, “congestion” does not explain cars running nose to tail followed by a long gap when any junior route supervisor should have learned, the first day on the job, about spacing out service.

    The TTC’s motto is “Safety, Courtesy and Service”. For “Safety” we have an army of lawyers, for Courtesy we must trust to Driver Bob and his fellows who put up with a lot from both customers and management (not to mention do-gooder bloggers), and for “Service” we will have the Planning Department tell us that, on average, nothing is wrong and, if anything, there are too many cars on the line.


  13. Without seeing any stats, I can’t say how many stopped escalators are due to whippersnappers triggering the safety shut-offs, and which “problem children” regularly overheat or are otherwise mechanically sub-par. How’s the short Broadview unit doing lately, anyone?

    Steve: It is stopped from time to time, although not quite as frequently as it used to be.

    Likewise, without credible figures, I don’t know how long these elevating devices are out of service before being restarted, whether caused by nuisance or other stops.

    (I won’t talk about the 16-plus-week rebuilding program or the state of signage notifying riders about all scheduled down-time.)

    I will mention that in my own experience escalators seem more reliable of late than I recall in years past. That’s anecdotal and may be because I ride B-D mostly and these have largely been rebuilt. I probably just jinxed myself.

    Steve: For my part, I have noticed more stopped escalators in the past three weeks or so.

    I do report stopped escalators to collectors. (If I don’t know the person working the booth, I try to be certain beforehand that nothing in my body language or manner seems like I’m about to yell at them for something going wrong in their station. Why this backwards-bending might be necessary can go in another thread.)

    Almost every time, the collector seems genuinely surprised that the unit is out, and may thank me or express the intention to see it gets checked — some seem as if they plan to do so themselves.

    Once in a while I get a response that indicates either they’ve already been told 40 times; that I am intrinsically a nuisance by addressing them; and/or it’s already been reported and they’ve given up hoping it will be remedied before their shift is over.

    I too had heard something about previous warning devices being in disrepair. Considering how many booth microphones also seem faulty, I’m not surprised this has never been properly addressed. Rules forbidding collectors to restart are news to me.

    I do not believe there is any official policy to halt escalators in transfer stations due to crowding. There does seem to be a protocol for reversing some units depending on time of day, as evidenced by small signs on the devices themselves.

    Perhaps a future column will rant about legal realities of liability versus the longstanding and common customer practice of walking on escalators. In the meantime, it seems we can expect any mention of Stand Right to be eventually expunged, even if it is far from an endorsement of Walk Left.

    A question is will TTC move further from not condoning walking to clearly advising riders to stand still, regardless of the effect on frustration levels as well as exacerbated crowding in transfer stations.

    And paranoically, how long till we are told not to mount the steps at the rear of a “low-floor” bus while the vehicle is in motion? Or to stand unaided when the train swings between College and Wellesley… Legal vultures may not yet have started drooling over these.


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