Hong Kong’s ever-longer escalators and commuter etiquette ‘heightening risk of accidents’

Warning after spectacular accident at Kowloon mall

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 4:09pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 10:59pm

Hurried Hongkongers’ urge to walk up escalators – along with the city’s malls’ push to make the machines ever longer – is increasing the danger of accidents, experts have warned.

That warning came after the city’s tallest escalator suddenly kicked into reverse, dumping shoppers quickly to the ground, at a Kowloon mall last week.

Two workers at the conveyor’s operating company were arrested after the accident, which hurt 18 people.

The 21-metre machine is among city’s 57 escalators taller than 15 metres, which architects said were more likely to malfunction, due to the heavier load.

“It has become a trend for shopping malls to build longer escalators as a way to speed up customer traffic and avoid congestion,” Ivan Ho Man-yiu, vice-president of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, said.

Rather than making customers go up floor by floor with short escalators, developers now find additional long escalators help improve business performance by efficiently sending more customers to shops on higher levels, he added.

Chinese metro scraps ‘walk left, stand right’ rule after escalators suffer damage

But Ho urged more stringent safety requirements on escalators that cover two or more floors, as the extended track allows more people to ride at once, increasing wear and tear.

In addition to architectural trends, the city’s escalator etiquette – stand on the right; walk on the left – also increases the chances of accidents.

“We have been telling people not to walk for years,” a spokesman at the government’s Electrical and Mechanical Services Department said. He said escalators are not designed to be walked on, and doing so risks a mishap.

But it seems busy residents shrugged off the warning.

It is not just the Hong Kong government that has tried to discourage walking on escalators. Japanese officials launched a “no walk campaign” in 2015, encouraging people to stand still on both sides of the escalator.

But – despite a decline in accident numbers during the campaign – commuters soon returned to walking afterwards.

Contractors are required to install more emergency stop buttons on escalators taller than 15 metres, but other safety requirements are the mostly same as for shorter ones, according to registered lift and escalator engineer Charles Wong Kai-hon.

He urged building bosses to send more workers to improve periodic maintenance.

Currently two workers are responsible for the job on the long escalators.