Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
So far, commuters are mainly ignoring it.
London’s Tube Network has a new weapon in its bid to get people to stand on both sides of the escalator: a singing hologram. Try to exit the city’s Holborn Station during morning rush hour and you’re now greeted by a blond woman projected onto a human-shaped cutout. As the video above shows, this smiling Stepford Train Guard urges you to stand on both sides of the escalator rather than reserve one side for walking only. As if the hologram’s grating cheerfulness wasn’t enough (all cheerfulness is grating before 9 a.m.), she has now apparently started singing. According to recent commuter reports, the ghost guard has started blurting slogans and breaking into a somewhat tuneless renditions of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing,” among other songs.
The approach isn’t just novel, it’s completely ineffective. Visiting Holborn during rush hour this morning, I can verify that not a single person was standing on the escalator’s left side. This recent photo from Twitter shows a few passengers cooperating, while most continue to ignore the hologram’s orders.
Gd to see Londoners ignoring Holborn hologram lady telling them to stand on both sides in the "standing only zone"! pic.twitter.com/8xCzOK31mf— HaveYouHeardOfIt? (@writtenbyfitton) April 22, 2016
Still, the hologram is genuinely trying to help. As Citylab reported in April, London’s transit authority has been trying to break down London escalators’ stand-on-the-right/walk-on-the-left rule. They’ve pitted themselves against it because it actually slows down rush hour traffic. So few people want to walk the whole way up an escalator that typically only half the stairway is fully occupied, creating bottlenecks at the foot of each escalator, where long orderly lines form (this is Britain, after all) made up of people who prefer to stand.
This habit is heavily ingrained. London commuters can be lax about some things—such as throwing away newspapers or eating strong-smelling food on the train—but standing on the wrong side of the escalator is completely taboo. It’s the sort of behavior that marks out not just tourists (who are generally welcome), but the kind of clueless, bovine-looking tourist that can’t even be bothered to look around them to see how others are behaving. Asking Londoners to break this rule is as culturally jarring as asking New Yorkers to walk slowly.
As you might expect, locals have turned to social media to express their scorn. Scrolling through Twitter comments on the hologram, I failed to find a single one in favour.
Ok. The hologram at Holborn station is bloody terrifying. @TfL— John Peart (@johnpeart) April 19, 2016
Holborn tube has a new "to stand or not to stand?" voiceover, drawing worrying comparisons with standing and the inevitability of death— Chris Mandle (@chris_mandle) June 6, 2016
We shouldn’t assume from this mini-backlash, however, that Londoners are genuinely upset. Low-level grumpiness is a sport here, and these detractors are most likely enjoying themselves heartily. You know what else Londoners enjoy? Standing on the right.