A recent column by Slate’s The Green Lantern column concluded that escalators on a subway system are more efficient than elevators, but only when large groups of people are being moved. During idle times, the escalators are a waste.
The solution posed by the column — variable speed escalators — is currently impossible in the United States. From Slate:
…intermittent or variable-speed escalators are popular in Europe and Asia, but they haven’t gained much traction in the United States, thanks to a national safety code that forbids escalators from changing speed.
So currently, our Metro system is stuck with escalators which cost $50,000 a year, are often broken, and also suck down power like a freshman, 30 beers and a funnel. How much power? Slate estimates that your average subway escalator uses about 60,000 kWh annually, or the equivalent of five U.S. households. There are 588 escalators in the Metro system. Thankfully, a good chunk of those are out at any given time (TBD found 78 escalators, are 13 percent were out recently).
Let’s estimate that 500 escalators are in service at any given time. Over a year, those escalators use the same electricity share as 2,500 households in the U.S.
If Metro converted just a few of its escalators to staircases each year, it would save millions of dollars over the life of the system, both in repair savings and energy efficiency. While this conversion might seem like a step backward to some, some escalators are just unnecessary, and we already have elevators to make our system handicap compliant. Certainly Rosslyn and Bethesda would need to maintain their long escalators, though the system is adding high-speed elevators at those stations because of the boondoggle the system’s escalators have become.
But with short escalators, like those at the top of Connecticut Avenue at Cleveland Park Station’s two street entrances or on the platform level of Eastern Market Station, there is no need to hang on to these roaring beasts, which seem to be out of service half the time anyway. Not only will staircase conversions increase pedestrian capacity (people walking both ways on one set of escalators — not pretty) but it will also save money.
So Metro, are you gonna hook it up, or are we going to be staring at repairmens’ butt cracks for the next 25 years?