Home MTA Technology Coming next week: Environmentally-advanced escalators

Coming next week: Environmentally-advanced escalators

by Benjamin Kabak

Subway Escalator by flickr user hizonic.

If I were the MTA, I wouldn’t attempt to draw too much attention my escalators. We have long heard about how many escalators are notoriously out of service, and in a way, the escalators are symbolic the larger problems plaguing the MTA.

But that’s not stopping the transit authority from plowing ahead on the escalator issue. According to Sewell Chan of The New York Times, the MTA is set to unveil some rather spiffy and environmentally-sound escalators over the next few months in an effort to respond to past critiques of their moving staircases. This move should also save the MTA just under $2000 per escalator per year.

Chan reports:

Starting on Monday, 35 recently installed escalators at four stations will start operating at variable speeds as part of a pilot program. The escalators, which use infrared motion sensors, will slow to just 15 feet per minute when no one is on them, compared with the normal full speed of 100 feet per minute. The escalators will gradually accelerate to the full speed, over a few seconds, once a rider steps on.

“Like humans, machines benefit from a little rest from time to time, and the escalators that provide service to subway customers are no exception,” said Paul J. Fleuranges, a spokesman for New York City Transit, the arm of the authority that runs the subways and buses.

By replacing old escalators with new ones that use a variable-frequency drive and numerous sensors, positioned near the escalators, officials hope to save on energy costs, and, just as important, reduce the wear and tear on the many mechanical parts in the heavily used machines.

“It’s not an idea we invented,” Thomas Kenny, principal mechanical engineer in the department of capital program management at New York City Transit, said in a phone interview. “We call it sleep mode. Others call it intermittent operation. It’s been used widely across the world, particularly in Europe and Asia.”

According to Chan, the lucky escalators can be found at the following stations: 34th Street-Herlad Square; Roosevelt Island, home of notoriously unreliable escalators; Jamaica-Van Wyck; and Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer. Don’t you all go screwing around with the sensors now.

It’s hard to argue with the MTA on this one. Environmentally-friendly escalators that save the beleaguered transit agency some money are a plus in my book, but there’s a catch. These escalators have to work in order to be effective, and the MTA’s track record in that regard is far from stellar. I hope the MTA can pull this one off, but until their escalators run with some regularity and fewer breakdowns, I’ll be skeptical of it all.

Maybe, come Monday, the MTA will prove me wrong. I hope so.

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Scott E August 6, 2008 - 8:35 am

Always being the cynic here, but…

Why test it with 35 escalators? If the test flops, that’s quite an investment. I’d make the test a bit smaller. Unless, of course, these are the only types of escalators made anymore, which I doubt.

Also, outfitting entire stations at a time seems a bit risky. The NY Times article says the lifespan is “up to 35 years” (I’m sure that assumes folowing a regular maintenance schedule – changing the oil every 3,000 miles, etc.) Whatever the REAL lifespan is, if they all go in at the same time, they are likely to all break down at about the same time. There would be a HUGE headache when that time comes.

They could be fun, or at least interesting. I could imagine a newspaper or plastic bag being blown above the escalator, causing it to constantly speed up and slow down. Not to mention, it would make it a bit more tempting to try to run up the “down” escalator, or vice-versa.

herenthere August 6, 2008 - 7:13 pm

I think you made a good point as to the cliched “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” However, I think a trial like this, which is unprecedented in the U.S., would be the most effective if an entire station was outfitted with these escalators. Having just one or two in a station would confuse passengers about which have variable-speeds and which do not.

Regarding the newspaper of plastic bag blowing, I believe the sensors are at waist-level (Herald Square) and probably have some timer that guesses if a person has not passed the other sensor after a time period, then it is probably not a person.

Greg August 6, 2008 - 12:11 pm

I give them two weeks before they are permanently out of service.

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