Japan's escalators ordinance appears to be failing

Japan's escalators ordinance appears to be failing

On October 3, people use escalators at the JR Urawa Station in Saitama s Urawa Ward. Yuri Nishida SAITAMA - Japan's first ordinance obliging people to stand still on escalators seems to have lost its effectiveness over the last year since its enforcement.

The percentage of escalator users in Saitama Prefecture who walk up and down the moving stairwells has returned to the level before October 2021, when the prefectural ordinance took effect.

The ordinance calls for users not to walk or run on escalators. It also obliges escalator administrators, such as train stations and retail shops, to notify the public about the rules.

There are no penalties for violations.

The ordinance was adopted by the prefecture just north of Tokyo to promote safety.

Typically at busy places in Japan, such as train stations in urban areas, escalator users stand on one side, allowing those in a hurry to walk past on the other side.

Escalator steps are often higher and narrower than normal stairs, said an official with the Japan Elevator Association, a Tokyo-based industry group of elevator and escalator manufacturers. You don't risk wrecking machinery by walking on an escalator, but doing so puts you at risk of injury because you could stumble. The association's figures show 1,550 accidents on escalators across Japan between January 2018 and December 2019.

In 805 of those cases, the cause was wrong, such as a person walking on an escalator instead of standing still.

Professor Katsumi Tokuda and Associate Professor Tomomi Mizuno, both studying barrier-free environment design at the University of Tsukuba, led the study in Saitama Prefecture.

The research team conducted fixed-point observations of escalators at three locations in the prefecture.

On Sept. 30, the study found that 61.1 percent of the 7,782 people who used an ascending escalator to change from the Tobu Line to the JR lines at Omiya Station from 7: 30 a.m. to 8: 30 a.m. were walking on it.

On October 1 last year, the percentage of walkers on the escalator was 62 percent.

The ordinance showed signs of success in the early stages.

On Nov. 5th, the ratio of users walking on the same escalator was 51.9 percent, one month after the ordinance went into effect.

The ratio dropped to 38.1 percent after three months on Jan. 14.

The percentage went back to pre-enforcement levels because of the lack of penalties, according to Tokuda and his team.

The researchers said conventional approaches to raise awareness, such as putting up posters and using public address systems, won't lead to lasting effects for the ordinance.

Tokuda said the ordinance has been effective in ways that are not shown by the figures.

The study on September 30 showed eight people who used escalators at the west exit of Omiya Station during a one-hour period stood on the right side, which is the customary walker lane in eastern Japan.

Even when a walker approached from behind, they did not budge.

The study also showed that some people initially appeared intent on walking up an escalator, but they hesitated and then rushed up a staircase by the side.

Tokuda said both scenes were rarely seen before the ordinance took effect.

The professor said that the decision to set the first ordinance of the kind in Japan was significant for the Saitama Prefecture.

The Saitama prefectural government is struggling to get people to keep following the ordinance.

A prefectural government official said that they hope to exchange views with the administrators of escalators on what efforts are available and what efforts will be available to raise public awareness.

The city of Nagoya is moving to approve a similar ordinance.