Because of accidents, East Japan Railway is asking commuters to stop walking or running up and down escalators. Serious accidents in the JR East area have reached 250 a year, or roughly one for every working day of the year. Many more accidents, however, go unreported. The increasing number of accidents inside train and subway stations has been attributed mainly to passengers walking or running on escalators.

Despite the fact that “Don’t walk” stickers have been placed near all 1,770 escalators at stations in the JR East area, most commuters seem unaware of the new request from JR East. The practice of lining up on the left side of escalators to allow people who want to walk to pass on the right is still widespread. Many people can be still seen rushing up and down escalators on the right side. This must be halted and the best way to do so would be to stop the practice of treating the right side as a “passing lane.” People should be encouraged to stand on both sides of the escalator.

Changing such an ingrained pattern of behavior will need more than small warning signs. It will also require combined effort, such as encouraging passengers to hold the handrails, something that Tokyo Metro does, although it has yet to join the ban on walking on escalators.

JR East and Tokyo Metro should also undertake comprehensive studies of the flow of commuters through stations. Many stations have improved the circulation of commuters on busy lines; however, other stations have added escalators and elevators that partially block platforms, causing greater congestion and slower movement. Banning walking on escalators also contributes to overcrowding during peak hours. People need to get off platforms and change trains in an efficient manner.

Commuters who are used to rushing should be aware that the new policy is intended to protect not only themselves but also the elderly, the handicapped and children, who are often bumped into or injured. The Tokyo habit of running for trains or racing through stations is one that needs to be changed. No one should be so late that they think it’s OK to put others at risk. Tokyo’s railway and subway system is already one of the most efficient in the world. Yet, for many commuters that is not enough; they still feel the need to run. Being late is a personal responsibility that should not create danger for others. Safety must come first.

Slowing down might also make commuters appreciate what a marvelous transportation system they have, and understand how their behavior is a large part of what also makes it so safe.

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