Should An Escalator Be Considered Public Transportation?

Post by Steven Dale

The Independencias I Connection Pathways, the world's first escalators for "Public Transport." Photo - AFP.

As we’ve argued before, Medellin is quickly becoming the poster child for multi-modal transit planning and the city’s latest public transit addition only solidifies that reputation.

Last week, the BBC reported (not to mention many, many others) that the city has opened a six-segment, 130m long system of escalators that rise 384m up into Comuna 13 – the same barrio served by Linea J of the Metrocable.

The escalator trims walking times for residents from up to 30 minutes down to 5 for the area’s 12,000 residents and was installed at a cost of approximately $7m. The system is free for all users.

I’d rather not wade into the chorus of people debating whether this is a good or bad development (and if you think there aren’t people virulently against this system, feel free to check here and here for examples of the ideologically-driven narrative against the escalators).

Instead, I’d like to focus on the system’s curious positioning specifically as public transport. As Medellin Mayor Alonso Salazar said during the system’s inauguration ceremony, “we used to see escalators in shopping malls, but Medellin will be the first to use it as public transport.”

Salazar’s comments are certainly arguable. There are no shortage of examples of outdoor escalators that aren’t considered “public transport.” So what then makes these specifically “public transport?”

My knee-jerk reaction is to say “well, of course, they’re public transport!” After all, they’re transporting members of the public in a way that improves the lives of area residents. But that might just be the emotionally-driven part of me reacting to the feel-good story this system inspires (and Mayor Salazar deftly exploits).

The flip side of the argument is this: Like roads, sidewalks and highways, the escalators are nothing more than pieces of outdoor mobility infrastructure that are usable by the general public without a specific fare or user fee. Furthermore, they’re presumably not operated or maintained by Metro de Medellin – the region’s transit agency.

So again: What makes them public transport? Are they public transport? I honestly don’t know and would love to hear your opinions.

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  1. "public transport" is essentially anything that the "public" can use to move around. anyone can use it. so yes, it is public transport. highways are not public transport because it requires a private vehicle for usage. plus, they don't physically/actually move people. escalators do. ps - check out Central-Mid-Levels (HK) escalator. completely blows this escalator out of the water http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central%E2%80%93Mid-levels_escalators
  2. Barcelona also uses outdoor escalators somewhat extensively. Ie. To access Parc Guell as I recall.
  3. Monorail is right : we got to focus on the function , more than definitions. In Italy there are several cities with escalators as public transport , Belluno, Perugia , and others like Genoa and Naples with even elevators (and hybrid elevator-funicolar too in Genoa) as pubilc transport even managed by the local urban transit authority
  4. Monaco has public elevators/escalators: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transport_in_Monaco#Elevators_.2F_travelators
  5. yes, but do public elevators and escalators count as public transit or simply transit infrastructure? and is it fare to charge for some public transit and not others?
  6. What about public transit moving sidewalks. Do those exist?
  7. I think that's the question I'm getting at.
  8. In airports. I don't know about outdoors.
  9. You're thinking of Plaza d'Espagna. Unless they've added ones to Parc Guell in the last 5 years.
  10. But the function leads to the definition. And if we define it as public transit, should public transit agencies not be responsible for such infrastructure?
  11. Right, I guess what I meant was in the case of all the other examples of outdoor escalators talked about here. There was talk of Monaco and Barcelona having similar systems. Are those viewed as transit in their respective cities?
  12. Matt the Engineer
    I find it interesting that these escalators aren't covered. All exterior escalators I've seen have been covered, I assume to protect all of the metal pieces from rust. I'd like to see how these hold up.
  13. In Italy are considered part of public transport. as far I know, escalators of Perugia and Belluno are free - although integrated in paying parkings - Elevator of Genoa are run by AMT and need an 0,80 € ticket , Naples elevators are free. All these are run by local municipal transport ; the question ticket/free seems not related to type of system than local habits.
  14. Matt the Engineer
    "is it fare" Heh. Good typo. Fair isn't the question. Services are generally tolled when it's easy to do so and the service mostly benefits one group, or if there's a service that you want to limit consumption of. In the case of public escalators, it fails the "easy" requirement (what, you're going to require exact change and install turnstyles?), and likely benefits everyone in that area. I'd argue the same holds for most dense urban transit systems. Seattle has a free bus zone downtown, which was set up in the '70's (originally called the Magic Carpet Zone). Buses downtown are used like horizontal elevators, and people zip back and forth for meetings across town or heading over for errands or lunch. I'd argue it's a strong reason bus transit is so popular in Seattle. Sadly budget problems will likely end this service next year, and I'm afraid of the impact this will have on businesses.
  15. I really like the idea of a Magic Carpet Zone... in the case of tight budgets it would be nice if there was a sort of highly subsidized zone. I don't like paying 3 dollars to travel a distance I could walk in 20 minutes, but what if it cost, say, 25 cents? I bet a lot of people would use it. It's more than free (helps with budget costs), but little enough that I think people wouldn't mind hopping on and off for a short commute.
  16. The ones in Barcelona aren't covered [img]http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3290/2656528161_baba50cc7f.jpg[/img]
  17. It never rains in Barcelona. And it never rains in Medellin. "Never" is, of course, an exaggeration. Having said that . . . . It never rains in Barcelona or Medellin.
  18. Matt the Engineer
    Thinking about it, the exterior escalators I'm thinking of are in Seattle where not only does it always rain ("always", of course, is not an exaggeration), it occasionally snows. Maybe that's the big issue that makes us cover them.
  19. I was there more than 5 years ago and from my recollection I took these escalators on my hike up to Parc Guell from somewhere. I forget. But the picture below nails it. Don't think it was espagna, but there were escalators there too.
  20. At the base of escalotors is the pit which contains drive machinery and PLCs. So yes, I have always found it odd that escalators can run uncovered, outdoors. I suspect it has a modified design.
  21. Man, then I feel like a sucker for having walked all the way up to Parc Guell - several times.
  22. It's just definitional - There's cable cars, then put it on a hill, it's a funicular, tilt it straight up and it's an elevator. What's the difference? Aren't elevators and escalators in the same category of transport?
  23. I think that's the question. Whey do we not think of elevators and escalators as transit? What I find so interesting about this situation is the Medellin Mayor explicitly positioning this as transit - even though it isn't in any way structured as part of the Medellin transit system. That's bizarre. I don't know what to make of it, but it deserves a large amount of contemplation.

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