Modeling Escalator Capacity

Escalators are an under appreciated component of many public transportation systems. Can you imagine using the Dupont Circle Metro station without them? 

A recent paper from the Transportation Research Record examines the role of escalators in public transit systems. "Modeling the Practical Capacity of Escalators: A Behavioral Approach to Pedestrian Simulation" by Peter Kauffmann and Shinya Kikuchi looks at how escalators affect pedestrian behavior and public transit. 

Escalators are an essential mode of public transportation that enable people to travel vertically within a facility at a continuous, high flow rate. Despite the importance of the role of escalators in many facilities, little systematic analysis of the capacity of escalators has been conducted within the field of transportation engineering. A method is presented to calculate the practical capacity of escalators with a simulation based on pedestrian behavioral rules. The capacity of an escalator is defined traditionally only as a function of speed with speed-capacity curves defined by manufacturers or found in empirical studies. These methods do not consider pedestrian behavioral patterns and preferences such as following distance, passing aggressiveness, and other local factors. A rule-based model provides the flexibility to analyze conditions in various public facilities and to answer hypothetical research questions. Three major findings are reported. First, the practical capacity of escalators in commercial facilities such as shopping malls is significantly lower than the maximum capacity in a commuter facility such as a transit station, at only 20% to 40% of what is generally reported by manufacturers to provide for freedom of movement and pedestrian comfort. Second, the model shows that prohibition of walking on escalators can stream-line operations in emergency scenarios because it reduces variability in the system and increases flow, particularly during peak periods. Finally, contrary to some claims in the literature, uphill flow on escalators operates at a lower capacity than does downhill flow because of the presence of a "facial ellipse," the region directly in front of a pedestrian's face.

The full paper can be found online here.