Research Projects

Effectiveness of Airport Escalator Speed Reduction

Risk management professionals have acknowledged that the reduction of airport escalator speed eases the transitions on and off of the the escalator. No speed studies have been conducted on airport escalators to determine an optimal escalator speed in the airport environment.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

The ACRP Synthesis Study on Escalator Falls identified the need for additional research into several aspects of escalator design and operations in the airport environment. No studies have been conducted to determine an optimal operating speed for escalators in the airport environment.

Escalator Speed

Escalator travel speed affects the rate of passenger incidents on escalators. Recent revisions to the ASME Escalator Standards reduce the maximum speed from 125 feet per minute to 100 feet per minute. Escalator speed does not affect escalator capacity, but does affect passenger travel time. Airports in Eugene, Oregon and Sarasota, Florida have indicated that their escalators operate at speeds below 100 feet per minute. In the procurement documents for the new escalators installed three years ago, the city of Eugene, the airport operator, specified an operating speed of 90 feet per minute. Slower escalator speeds ease transitions on and off escalators for all passengers.

Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ)

The Sarasota Bradenton International Airport special ordered/designed escalators to accommodate the 80 feet/minute travel speed. The speed of the escalator was discussed among airport staff as a possible means to reduce falls on the escalators. Because of the discussion, the lower speed was written into the design and bid specifications. Records noted that there was reluctance on the part of the escalator companies to reduce the speed. The bidding companies thought that the reduced speed would not make a difference or could even increase the hazard. The airport made their decision to reduce speed based upon their observations of how passengers interact with the escalators and on the average age of the passengers. The airport's market largely consists of retirees and older passengers.

Despite signs discouraging the behavior, passengers would still try to carry their sometimes heavy and awkward bags on the escalator, even dragging the heavy bags up the escalator behind themselves. Both these situations led to off-balance situations and often to falls—typically straight over backwards. The airport staff believed that the previous (faster) speed of the escalator and the passenger demographics, were contributing to the observed falls. These observations are consistent with the cited literature and other studies indicating a reduction in motor skills and balance with age.

Since the installation of the new escalators, the airport has observed fewer falls. This is, however, purely anecdotal since the actual number or severity of falls have not been officially tracked. Since the installation of the slower speed escalators, the airport passenger counts have increased by 40% to 50% monthly. It was noted that recently the annual passenger count is just shy of 2,000,000 passengers. The non-traveling public as well as airport staff both airline and airport authority and many other vendors also use the escalators. This could easily double the number of annual escalator users. In the past year, camera recordings indicate that there were less than a dozen falls on the escalators and there have been no reported serious injuries. Those falls that were observed, typically by camera, were explainable. In general, the person was trying to carry too much and had limited physical ability.

The slower travel speed has not hindered passengers from moving through the building in any observable way. The airport is medium size and of a design and scale, that does not require a high-speed transport system, of any kind. The airport and all gates are completely walkable. (Courtesy of Tim Ressler, Manager, Facilities, Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority, 2020)

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The objective of the research is to determine optimal escalator operating speeds in the airport environment to reduce escalator falls and improve safety in the air terminal.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

The study needs to involve a number of airport stakeholders including risk management and safety officers as well as representatives of the esclator industry. The study should involve detailed field studies conducted at participating airports. The study design should include an experimental design that can be reproduced across different airports, but still insure evidence based results that will provide guidance for airport operators, airport designers and the escalator industry. The experimental design must insure that human subject testing protocols are followed.

Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

Estimate a cost ot $250,000 to $300,000 ..

This estimate is based on the costs associated with the expenses associated with field studies involving human subjects at airports.

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

Final Report of the ACRP Sythesis Topic Study ( S04-25) on Escalator Falls.

FInal report is in publication

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Idea No. 413