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  • Writer's pictureMr. FI Musician

Take the Stairs, Not the Escalator

My first day at college I remember my roommate, who had been on campus for a few days already, took me down to the convenience store within the dorm to buy some snacks. I didn’t know where I was going, so I simply followed him. He took me to an elevator and when the door opened, we were met by another student holding a large box. He was clearly moving into his dorm.

We joined him in the elevator as he continued to hold the box. It looked heavy. My roommate then pushed the button for the floor directly below us. I immediately saw the frustration in the person sharing the elevator. We would be stopping his elevator ride twice so that we could travel down one floor. His frustration was so great that he actually said as we got off the elevator, “Seriously? You couldn’t take the stairs?”

I was embarrassed. I wanted to explain that I had no idea where we going, that if only I had known we were traveling down one floor I would have of course taken the stairs. It was absurd that we used an elevator to travel that short of a distance. But it was too late the door shut and I never saw him again.

This might as well have been me.

That moment has stuck with me these 15+ years later. Not because I was mortified, but because I agreed with him.

The elevator exists for two reasons:

  • To help people move up and down who can’t use stairs.

  • To more efficiently move people up and down.

In the case of my story above, this person was holding a heavy box. It would have been difficult and/or dangerous for him to open and close the stairwell doors, as well as carry up and down the stairs. Others may have disabilities or limitations that keep them from ascending or descending stairs. Or maybe you work on the 20th floor of a building and you need to use an elevator to get there quickly.

For me and my roommate, we were simply being lazy. It was actually slower to use the elevator than simply walking down the flight of stairs. We abused this technology.

Since that moment I’ve been conscious of my choice when it comes to stairs, escalators, or elevators. My decision on which to use is based on two factors: time and other people.

Here’s my breakdown of when I use each of these:


I will usually choose the escalator if no one is ahead of me. This allows me to walk up/down the escalator and gets me to the next floor quicker than using the stairs. I will not use the escalator if there are people ahead of me who are standing still, slowly waiting for the escalator to do the job of their legs.


If people are on the escalator, I will take the stairs. It’s fun to use my muscles and get to the next floor 4 times faster than the people on the escalator who choose not to use their legs. I’ll even use the stairs at the airport when I have luggage with me.


I use an elevator if I have to travel up more than 4 flights of stairs, or if I’m carrying something heavy. I find that anything less than 4 flights, it’s usually quicker to take the stairs than wait for an elevator.

An Experiment

There have been plenty of studies done on stair usage, however I couldn’t find any data on people walking up an escalator vs. being carried up by an escalator. I decided to go to a local Target that has a substantial set of stairs and escalator to conduct an experiment.

Here’s a photo of the room I was in:

That's a nice set of stairs.

I tallied groups of people based on how they used the stairs or escalator. If a group entered the Target together, I counted them as a single tally, since they decided together on their route.

However, before I go any further, I think it is important to recognize that my experiment has flaws. There is a good chance some of the people I saw needed to use the escalator due to physical limitations. In fact, I saw two people who clearly did have physical limitations. Some people (not many) had a substantial amount of goods they purchased, which would make it more difficult to use stairs on their way out of the building. I kept this experiment simple in order to give rough numbers. I understand the way I conducted this did not account for outside variables that might influence the data. Okay, on with the results.

The Results


  • Escalator Standing Still (Up): 61 (55%)

  • Escalator Walking (Up): 24 (22%)

  • Stairs (Up): 26 (23%)


  • Escalator Standing Still (Down): 81 (76%)

  • Escalator Walking (Down): 14 (13%)

  • Stairs (Down): 12 (11%)

  • Sliding down banister: 1 (<1%) – Yes, this actually happened.


  • Escalator Standing Still: 142 (65%)

  • Escalator Walking: 38 (17.5%)

  • Stairs: 38 (17.5%)

As you can see, 65% of groups of people stood still on the escalator. Only 35% of groups of people used their legs to get them up or down.

That’s not really that surprising. What is interesting is how the number of people in a group affected how they used traversed the incline. The stairs were almost always chosen by groups of one. A few groups of two also chose the stairs. The only groups of three or more who chose the stairs were two groups that had children. In both instances the children chose the stairs and the parents followed.

Those who chose to walk up or down the escalator were mostly groups of two, with some groups of one. No groups of three or more chose to walk on the escalator.

My first thought with this was that larger groups were more likely to stand still so they could communicate with each other more easily while traveling up or down. But upon observation, the majority of groups weren’t communicating with each other. They were mindlessly staring at their phones.

Add a phone into their hands and the Simpsons nailed it.

My Hypothesis

People know that statistically the majority choose to stand still on the escalator. Understanding this statistic, perhaps people choose this route only because they think that’s what everyone else wants to do. For example, Fred and Ben will both typically take the stairs when they are by themselves, but when together they stand still on the escalator. Why? Because probability tells them that most likely their counterpart would prefer the escalator.

Or maybe I’m over thinking it and people are just lazy and want to use the time on the escalator to scroll through their social media channels.

Regardless, next time you have a choice, think about whether you want to be a mindless zombie who stands on an escalator because everyone else does it, or if you want to simultaneously give yourself a bit more exercise and save a bit of time.

And I should point out that while this article was focusing on escalators and stairs, know that it’s a metaphor for all decisions in life. You can take the easy route that everyone else chooses and let society mindlessly guide your choices, or you can put a little more effort into taking the road less traveled and come out the other side a better person. It's your choice, but I know the next time I'm taking the stairs, not the elevator.

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