At Last, Metro Has a Message for 'Escalumps'

In station messages, Metro is trying to reinforce etiquette, including the cardinal rule of escalators: Stand right.
In station messages, Metro is trying to reinforce etiquette, including the cardinal rule of escalators: Stand right. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 11, 2007

Stand to the RIGHT, already.

That has been the eternal plea -- grumbled, spoken, yelled and otherwise communicated -- of impatient Metro commuters stuck on escalators because tourists don't realize that in big, important Washington, you stand to the right so all the Type A people can hurry past on the left.

For the first time in its history, Metro has started telling them.

"Hi. Welcome to Metro," the station announcement begins. "We have a lot of escalators in our system. You'll notice that most people stand on the right side. And while you're riding, hold the handrail for your safety. Enjoy your trip, and thank you for riding Metro."

The announcement is one of a series that the agency has recently recorded to ever-so-gently remind riders of the system's rules, customs and quirks, including escalator etiquette and train-door operation.

Some announcements are new, such as the one that tells people that train doors are not like elevator doors: They will not automatically open again "if they close on your arm, leg or purse." Others reinforce the basic bans: No eating, drinking or smoking anywhere in the system, including on outdoor station platforms.

But few are likely to be as welcome as the one laying out escalator protocol.

"We hear from our average customers and from people on the online chats asking us -- pleading with us -- can you please, please tell people to stand to the right?" Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. "People who stand to the left instead of standing to the right are like speed bumps, and they slow down the pedestrian flow through the stations. They're known as 'escalumps' and 'escaleftors.' "

More colloquially, they're known as annoying.

"The visitors are always getting on the left, and the locals are trying to rush like hell to get their train and get to work," said Calvin Lewis, 61, who commutes from Landover to Van Ness, where he is a staff member of the University of the District of Columbia's cooperative extension service. Lewis hasn't heard the new announcements but said they are an "excellent" idea.

The messages, which began running a week ago, are typically short -- 10 to 15 seconds -- and take a conversational tone. They were recorded by Metro employee Ron Holzer, who also voices the system's podcasts.

The subway system, which was built deep beneath swampy Washington, has 572 escalators -- more than any other transit system in the world except Tokyo's. A typical Metro passenger must ride at least two escalators to reach a train. The steps are 40 inches wide, enough to accommodate two adults. Many escalators stretch deep into the ground, including the 230-foot-long set of moving stairs at Wheaton, the longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere, according to Metro.

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