Should everyone leave the elevator (subway car) before others try to enter?

I’ve noticed in Hong Kong that exiters are not accorded absolute priority.  That is, those entering the elevator can push their way through before the leavers have left, without being considered impolite, unlike in the United States.  In part, Hong Kongers are in a hurry, but that does not itself explain the difference in customs.  After all, exiters are in a hurry too, so why take away their priority rights?  Perhaps we should look again to Coase.  If some people who wish to enter are in a truly big hurry, they can barge forward.  Furthermore, an exiter who is not in a hurry at all can hold back, knowing that someone will rush to fill the void, rather than ending up in the equilibrium of excessive politeness where each defers to the other and all movements are delayed.  That is not an equilibrium you see often in downtown Hong Kong.

There is another positive effect from the Hong Kong method.  If you will be exiting the elevator, you have to step forward early on and be ready to leave promptly, to avoid being swamped by the new entrants.  That means the process of exit takes place more quickly.  And so the entrants who are in a hurry actually do get on their way earlier than would otherwise have been the case.



Chinese people aren't polite, that is the beginning and the end of it. On the upside, Chinese people are much less likely to be angered by being pushed and shoved in a crowd.

Mainland Chinese, yes. Hong Kong Cantonese, no.

A friend of mine who lives in HK makes this distinction, and says a "queue" of mainland Chinese (like at a ticket window) is really just a semicircle of people pushing.

Politeness is often less efficient. That is why politeness is negatively correlated with population density. If everyone in New York City drove like drivers in the rural south, no one would get anywhere.

I moved to the south (but not the rural south) about five years ago. Driving is very different here. Everyone treats driving like a zero-sum game. If someone is getting something they want (like a lane change), then the other driver thinks they must be losing something. This attitude is there even in situations that are clearly mutually beneficial or where your actions will not affect others. If you turn on a signal light other cars will go out of their way to speed up slow down (yes, they'll block you from pulling in behind them). I asked my friend, a born-n-raised local, about this and his response was, "Yup. That's why you should never use your turning signal. You can't ever let other drivers know what your intentions are otherwise they'll try to stop you." Hiding your intentions from other drivers? That's the exact opposite of how I was raised to drive.

I think of it in terms of a repeated tit-for-tat game where we've gotten stuck in the bad equilibrium.

I also think there's a parallel with the political attitudes here. If some other group is getting something (e.g., marriage equality), then you must be losing something.

Woah, where is that? I have never experienced driving like that anywhere.

It describes driving in Raleigh NC fairly well I'm afraid.

I attribute it to an unhealthy response to the aggressive driving New York/Boston/New Jersey folks moving here and the locals who used to drive "politely" are angered by the aggressive driving and decide to get even by blocking out. Basically, a clash of driving cultures, either of which work quite well, ends up making everybody worse off.

I fear the zero sum attitude is becoming entrenched.

That's the way Los Angeles drivers explained it to me when I visited there. That's pretty far south isn't it?

- "I attribute it to an unhealthy response to the aggressive driving New York/Boston/New Jersey folks moving here and the locals who used to drive “politely” are angered by the aggressive driving and decide to get even by blocking out. Basically, a clash of driving cultures, either of which work quite well, ends up making everybody worse off."

Maybe it's because I've internalized how people drive in New York and New Jersey, but how is that behavior a reaction to Yankee aggressiveness rather than just plain old passive-aggresive dickery?

"Maybe it’s because I’ve internalized how people drive in New York and New Jersey, but how is that behavior a reaction to Yankee aggressiveness rather than just plain old passive-aggresive dickery? "

It is passive-aggressive dickery. But, locals see the aggressive driving as rude and respond by being rude in turn.

You may not perceive the aggressive driver as rude, but if all the driving around you was rather leisurely and uncongested for your whole life, you might feel different.

I get that there'd a be a reaction to aggressive driving sometimes, but I don't see how stopping people who signal intent to change lanes (which isn't something I see as aggressive driving) counts.

"I get that there’d a be a reaction to aggressive driving sometimes, but I don’t see how stopping people who signal intent to change lanes (which isn’t something I see as aggressive driving) counts."

Ah, yea. Got it. I think the mentality is that anybody who wants to be in front of me is being aggressive. If you want in, go in behind me. The busier the traffic, the worse the behavior.

"Maybe it’s because I’ve internalized how people drive in New York and New Jersey, but how is that behavior a reaction to Yankee aggressiveness rather than just plain old passive-aggresive dickery?"

It's passive-aggressive dickery, but it's a common response. See Nisbett and Cohen's Culture of Honor and some of their related studies. One example study:

They had students take a test and then walk down a hallway to turn it in that was not wide enough for people to walk two abreast. They would send someone else walking the opposite direction with instructions not to stand aside. The experimental factor was whether or not the student experimented on had been agitated by someone else being rude earlier.

They found that students in the South, under normal conditions, yielded much sooner and farther away than students from the North. However, if the Southern students had recently been treated rudely, even by someone else, they yielded much closer and sometimes even grew belligerent. Being treated rudely in another situation had zero effect on the Northern students.

The Twin Cities (MN) exurbs it's like this. Zero sum. If you get one car ahead that means they lost the game.

MN is one of two states (I think) where you are actually supposed to fill all lanes prior to a merge but the people won't let you in when you do that. I make sure I am in the right lane within 10 miles of my exit because otherwise you have to just point your car and close your eyes because the #@$#% won't let you in.

Plus they drive very fast and not a cop in sight. Strange.

" fill all lanes prior to a merge"

Penn Turnpike has signs up in construction areas showing this.
I think you're pretty much supposed to do this everywhere, but nobody does.
It is more efficient for sure.

That's not an example of "southern" driving, that's an example of congestive urban driving and happens all over the country.

Agreed, sounds like everywhere I've driven, including NY.

"If you turn on a signal light other cars will go out of their way to speed up slow down (yes, they’ll block you from pulling in behind them)."

This is not my experience as a driver in L.A.

I totally understand not wanting other drivers to pull in FRONT of you(because if their "I feel safe driving like this" state is less efficient than mine, then I am stuck behind them), but I don't understand why I should care about someone pulling in behind me...

The push shove situation can't be worse than India. Is it? Just wondering.

At a crowded Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka , my wife and I were amazed at the total absence of jostling , in stark contrast to say the famous Hindu temple at Tirupati in South India . Being of Indian origin , it was a revelation.

Waiting for exiters is usually more efficient because they occupy a choke point area that limits the boarding rate.

Hm, that comment didn't go where it was supposed to.

Anyhow, I've been shoved around far more at music venues in Chicago than anywhere in (mostly south) India.

Yes, but did you adjust for time spent in both places?

But white Americans pay a lot of money to get bounced around in a mosh pit. It's an exotic experience, not a tedious daily affair.

A book I read describes mosh pits as causing an altered state of consciousness:

That seems right to me.

Sure, and I guess I don't spend much time queueing when I'm in India. But when I have been pushed, it was never particularly aggressive. Perhaps there are regional variations?

Define politeness.

Assuming you are driving at, 'it's a function of culture'. Having and exhibiting behavior that is respectful and considerate of others does not in and of itself seem cultural. Indeed there are gradients, and norms, but hey, the Global Citizen concert told me to break down these barriers!


People are more "polite" on NYC subways than the LIRR. I ascribe the courtesy to a universal assumption that the dude you push will go ballistic (and probably has a gun or knife).

Good point. In economic jargon: availability of weapons in the US has a negative externality on the efficiency of boarding elevators. What more reason do we need to pass gun control, folks!?

Isn't it the other way around? The threat of sudden violence has a positive externality in that it encourages politeness.

I don't really buy this argument at all, but some time ago when I split my living between California and the Northeast it was the most common explanation people gave me for why the drivers in California were so much more polite and yielding. People would joke about how maybe we would get lucky and experience more drive-by shootings and gang problems, thereby encouraging polite car interactions.

I would be less skeptical of self-driving cars if Google was prototyping them in Boston rather than Northern California.

Youre right in saying it has a positive externality on politeness. But politeness efficiency, and where ppl arent worried about politeness, things move a bit quicker. For example, an earlier MR link called for people to merge more rudely, saying that driving in that soon-to-be-closed lane until the very last second and cutting over is more efficient than the polite way of getting in line and waiting like everybody else.

That said there is also obviously positive effects from politeness that may trump the efficiency of boarding elevators/trains/buses or driving. But then again, maybe they do not.

"an earlier MR link called for people to merge more rudely, saying that driving in that soon-to-be-closed lane until the very last second and cutting over is more efficient"

I wouldn't call that rude at all. Rudeness is when drivers don't 'zipper' at the merge point.

NYC possibly has the most draconian gun control in the USA. It's gun assault/murder rates are far higher than any of the 30+ US states where citizens continue to possess open and concealed handgun carry freedoms.

And, the Second Amendment.

And, the Swiss example. The entire (assuming they allow women to serve) adult Swiss population is armed with assault weapons (these are real assault weapons) and they have lived in peace and prosperity for 800 years and counting.

NYC murder rate: 4 per 100,000
Louisiana murder rate (open and concealed carry): 14 per 100,000

Violent crime rates:
NYC 640 per 100k
Louisiana (worst state) 555 per 100K

Yeah, this argument doesn't fly - NYC rates are actually extremely low per capita for a large city in the US.

I looked up the Swiss example you mentioned & it seems that a carry permit is required for everyone not actively in the Swiss militia, which already seems stricter in terms of gun control than many states.

The police presence in New York City is palpably greater than in, say, Los Angeles or even Chicago.

Rudest mtourists on the planet.

I wouldn't say that the Chinese aren't polite. But when I lived in Taiwan it seemed to me that queueing was a foreign concept to them.

Subway riders in DC are generally quite good about letting people get off the train first... I see less of that in NYC.

It very much is not, though I feel at least some of it is that big cities are a new thing to many Chinese (as in, they only recently moved to a city) so norms have taken time to be established throughout the population. In my most recent visit to Shanghai, I noticed a definite shift towards Japanese-style lining up at marked areas on the platform. Psychological nudges help.

I took a train from Shanghai to Anhui province in 1997 where people climbed in through windows to jump the line & get on board, so really, so much improvement in less than 2 decades.

Except in Canada, the Chinese and South Asians are the only Canucks who still know hiw to queue. I spend a lot of time in our "friendly" neighbor to the north, and Canuck manners have collapsed in the past two decades.

"And so the entrants who are in a hurry actually do get on their way earlier than would otherwise have been the case."

How so? The elevator / subway car leaves when it's ready to leave. In the case of the elevator it won't leave until everyone who is getting off is off. And the subway leaves on its own schedule whether you've hurried aboard or not. So the people pushing to get on to the car don't speed up their journey at all. All they do is spend their time waiting in the car rather than outside of it.

Meanwhile the folks leaving the car have no similar hindrance once they're off the car. If they hurry off, they're truly on their way earlier - that is unless they're prevented from doing so because other people are trying to push into the car and are blocking the door.

Not true. When an elevator is uncrowded, the pre-set waiting time may be the limiting factor of when it leaves, but when it is crowded, the time taken for everyone to get on and off is the limiting factor.

Yes, but if you're getting on and you're in a hurry, you can't speed the elevator up by getting on before everyone gets off. The elevator isn't leaving until everyone gets off, whether you are in a hurry or not.

This is what I was going to say. It's hard to imagine a way in which this could, on average, be optimal. Just sounds like lack of proper manners leading to a suboptimal outcome. We have many examples of this in our societies. Don't understand the need to rationalize this one away as if maybe it's actually good.

Exactly. Tyler seems to be claiming that people barging their way onto the car speeds up the process? That makes no sense; they're barging their way into a crowded vehicle -- whereas if the riders can exit first, there'll then be space for the newcomers to embark.

Right. If it takes me 30 seconds to struggle my way out of the elevator (not because I was poorly prepared, but because of the crush of people trying to clamber on) that is 30 seconds that nobody can stand in my spot and 30 seconds delay. This is an issue when things are crowded, but we're talking Hong Kong.

The problem is that people fear they may miss the elevator or subway completely, not about that particular car getting away faster. Solved by better queuing norms, not more shoving.

One thing I noticed shopping at a Japanese supermarket in Silicon Valley frequented by many actual ex-pat Japanese was I'd get bumped by other shopper's baskets. Americans would find any physical contact rude, but I guess that's the norm in Japan. I shop all the time at Chinese supermarkets mostly patronized by Chinese, but it doesn't happen there. I guess this close contact is peculiar to the Japanese, not the Chinese.

No, the Japanese are about as sensitive to issues of personal space as Americans are, maybe even more so.

I remember the first time I was in an elevator in Japan. The elevator stopped and several people got in, and they walked up and stood directly beside me. It felt weird to me at the time. In the US, elevator riders distribute themselves evenly, like a Faraday cage. So yes, maybe the Japanese are "sensitive to issues of personal space," but they seem to need much less personal space than is the cultural norm in the US.

The first time I traveled in a Bombay (now Mumbai) local train and boarded a train at Victoria Terminus (now CST), I was surprised to see people boarding what appeared to be a fairly empty train car and moving quickly away from the doors, far into the aisles and even packing themselves between the seats. It made perfect sense to me only when the oncoming waves of passengers began boarding in the subsequent stations. Cooperation at its best.

Trading off politeness for a tiny bit of questionable efficiency gets tiresome within a few months of existence. I rather enjoy the American status quo.

What one enjoys as an Hong Kong elevator tourist is different from what one would want to experience everyday of the year.

Politeness is subjective. Maybe delay is seen as impolite in their culture.

(a) I thought Tyler was arguing implicitly that we do what they do. (b) I don't think your conjecture about their culture has any basis.

On a visit to Singapore, I noticed all try to face each other (by facing inward, with backs to the walls) , rather than stand behind one another. I found it quite different from the US . Don't know if thats the norm.

In Europe as well. If you move forward (or turn around) and stand facing the door, it's a non-verbal sign that you intend to exit at the following stop.

I thought the US "everyone facing forward in elevator" phenomenon was only done in TV series for the benefit of the viewers. You say this is actually how it works?

In America, if you stand in the elevator facing inward, that is usually interpreted as an aggressive or even threatening gesture, particularly if you are blocking the door.

When I posted the earlier comment about Singapore, I meant facing inward from the other 3 sides of the elevator , not the front side. Of course if there are too many people , thats not possible. Those facing the door would have to make a choice .

Most Americans spend little time in crowded elevators and virtually none on packed trains and buses. So I guess it really wouldn't be surprising if Americans picked up their social norms for these situations from watching TV shows and movies given the lack of personal experience.

True, but dated. Now EVERYONE looks at their phone.

No, most everyone faces forward. There's only two situations in which it's acceptable in the US not to face forward on the elevator. One, you are talking to someone else who is on the elevator with you (though talking on an elevator other than to say some minor pleasantry is generally frowned upon). Two, you are at the very front of the elevator, in which case it is acceptable for you to turn so as to be facing the door instead of directly forward.

Like a Mexican standoff.

What we need are more studies of people leaving and entering elevators (and subway trains ) like we have for boarding flights. All this shoving and pushing certainly doesn't "elevate" spirits.

TC's comment reminds me of the study that showed assigned seats in boarding of an airplane does not make the boarding any faster than random seats, as is done with Southwest Airlines.

Also : "#smallstepstowardamuchbetterworld" is barging into a crowded space the 'small steps' to a 'much better world'?

This is a mechanical question, not a cultural one. Right-of-way for exiting passengers promotes efficiency. Giving preference to boarding passengers will tend to clog the entrance for exiting passengers, whereas giving preference to exiting passengers will tend to clear the entranceway for boarding passengers.

The principle is plainly recognized by the people who design mainland Chinese subway stations. There are arrows marked on the floor indicating that those waiting to board should stand clear of the exiting passengers, to either side of the door of the subway car.

The Dubai Metro has copied this with very clear signs as to where people should stand for boarding. And the Mitsubishi designed Metro performs perfectly with regards to where the various carriages line up on the platform.

Those valuable seconds I save shoving other people out the way, give me more time to leave pointless comments on other peoples blog posts.

The people going into the subway (in Hong Kong) have actually something to win: a place to sit or a standing place away from the worst crowded space. It is usually the elderly and the young, aiming for a seat, who push in the hardest. Even if the train is at the start of the ride and will wait for another lets say 7 mins, you will see them push in to guarantee a seat.

At the same time, people will almost always not fully block the whole door, they leave a tiny path in the middle, still allowing people to leave. Most expats arriving here get very irritated by it, and find it rude. After a while you get used to it and learn to deal with it, though sometimes you just block the way by stending still in front of the worst offenders who then result to crawl around you in their urge to find a seat.

With the subway being crowded as it is, you might even miss out on a spot in it at all, with doors closing before you, if you don't get in in time. But that is rare, only during heavy traffic.

When I lived in Boston in the 1980s, riders on the T were usually only semi-decent about letting the passengers exit first. Although Tyler seems to be claiming that there's no efficiency advantage in letting the passengers exit first (and he's wrong if that's what he's claiming) he's right about the potential efficiencies of some aggressive shoving. If I was exiting the T and was right next to the door, I would bust straight forward the instant that the doors opened, like a fullback rushing forward on the goal line. If the people on the platform weren't smart enough to know that they were supposed to give way for the exiting passengers, that was their problem -- I'd bump and jostle right past or through them. My bull rush would usually make them pause for a split second, which would let some of the passengers behind me also exit, creating the optimal flow: passengers exiting first.

I was in Korea once and noticed the same thing.

When I was in Korea they were talking about having subway cars that detached from the train for each stop thus allowing the metro to shoot across the city without stop. Wonder if that ever happened?

I intentionally give a shoulder to the jaw of anyone that doesn't let me out first. Boxing me in is rude and must not be allowed to happen.

Perhaps it's because I visited Hong Kong immediately after Shanghai, and thus Hong Kong only looked good in comparison (I've never lived in a US city with a subway), but I was specifically struck by how much better things were in this respect in Hong Kong. I wonder if the people not waiting are mostly mainlanders.

Here in DC, most people will wait until the exiters have exited before entering. But if it looks like the doors might close before you have a chance to get on, patience goes out the window. Generally if it takes more than three seconds for everyone to exit, the people waiting on the platform will begin to enter. Fortunately I only very rarely need to take the subway during rush hour, so this isn't a problem that I often have to deal with. When I'm exiting the subway I generally try to stay to the right, just in case someone does try to board before the standard wait time.

I'm trying to decide which is the better summary of the preference signalled here.

Would it be "F--- you" or "Devil take the hindmost"?

Here's Dave Barry on this:

Excellent excerpt, thanks.

So awesome.

Here's a very young Christian Bale getting separated from his parents by a Shanghai crowd:

I go to see day-to-day a few sites and sites to read content, except this
weblog gives quality based posts.

There are two things I see as important, and both point to the exiters having priority.
The cost of missing your boarding/exiting window is higher for the exiters than the enterers. If the doors close and you're still on the platform, you grab the next train. If you get stuck on the train, then you're on until the next stop, and that's (most likely) a much bigger deal. The same holds to a lesser extent with elevators.

Second, those exiting a more confined space should have priority over those entering to avoid gridlock. For example, those already in a traffic circle/rotary/roundabout have the right of way, lest it get completely jammed up. (In a CS class, France, specifically Paris, was used as an example of what not to do, requiring traffic cops to override the normal rules when gridlock occurs. I cannot verify from personal experience if France gives the right of way to those entering traffic circles)

France has almost entirely moved over to a system where cars already on the roundabout have priority - cars approaching see a sign saying Vous n'avez pas la priorité. However, there are still a few roundabouts where the old Priorité au droit prevails - and the most famous is the Etoiles surrounding the Arc de Triomphe. I found it an enormously exciting challenge to negotiate your way off (since getting on is exhilaratingly easy....). There's also a rondpoint near Reims where the old system prevails - but I only found that out once I'd entered it, and that was such a shock it was far from being exhilarating.

Interesting! I assumed that cars already on the roundabout always had priority all over the world.

Well, ok, except in New Jersey where a very arbitrary system prevailed. Neither those entering nor those already on had absolute priority but a series of yield signs dictated that.

So on the same roundabout you might have some entry points requiring you to wait and others not.

For some reason that I cannot fathom, there is a universal rule that you give way to traffic on your right, it's the same whether or the traffic is on the left or right hand side of the road. In left-hand drive countries this works just fine for roundabouts, but for right-hand drive countries you get trouble and probably need an exception to the rule.

I expect this is why the US tends to avoid the things. They have four-way stop sign instead.

Well, I dispute your assertion that there's a universal rule. At 99.9% of French roundabouts, it's priority to the left, and in Germany, Italy and Spain it's 100%. In cities organised on rectangular grid plans, the traffic light system seems more sensible, even though I believe it leads to more deaths than you would get with roundabouts. And in smaller towns, the Stop sign certainly encourages (very) careful driving. But having been a car passenger in several small American towns, I'm astonished by the inefficiencies caused by this system, as opposed to the overwhelmingly common "Give Way" convention in Europe. Keep the traffic flowing is undoubtedly the European philosophy.

In Washington, DC, they are putting stop lights in the roundabouts.

Is this a metaphor for officious government?

One of many reasons I got rid of my car within months of moving here.

One of the many reasons I simply don't go into DC ;-)

Late arrivers don't respect arrival-order rules, so on-boarders have to fight with each other, and people getting off end up suffering.

I wrote a long analysis of Beijing elevator design & behavior which covers some similar issues of lack of trust & design:

Exactly there are three reasons to push your way onto an elevator or public transport:

1.) To get a good seat.
2.) To make sure you actually get on (there may be limited room).
3.) To make sure people behind you don't cut in front of you -- for reasons #1 and #2, but also because screw those jerks.

The idea that these people are solving for group optimization is a hoot.

People in Taiwan let you out before they enter.

A "much" better world, mind you. I'm sure Mr. Cowen will put skin in the game and move to a Hong Kong public apartment building to live for 2 years and enjoy his much better world where not being constantly in a hurry means you're constantly pushed around.

Re: "If some people who wish to enter are in a truly big hurry, they can barge forward."

Its hard to shove Coase into this subway,

When the subway doesn't leave until

Everyone is on the subway.

Maybe we should go to the beginning and ask:

Is the subway closing its doors too soon, and change THAT behavior.

At my workplace, people bend over backwards to push the "hold open" button every time the elevator stops, and nearly everyone feels obligated to thank them on the way out for doing so even thought it saves no one time and actually slows down the unloading process. This is especially absurd in our handicapped elevator which is inexplicably equipped with three identical sets of buttons. More than once I've seen all three sets manned by different occupants who compete to see who'll be the most courteous.

This is in Japan; it jives w/ stereotypical Japanese politeness-to-a-fault, but I've no idea if it's a nationwide phenomena.

We had an elevator facing a longish ground floor hallway & people always tried looking at the floor immediately after entering to avoid eye contact with someone walking from far away towards the elevator. Lest it obligated them to use the door open button.

We did have a few courtesy-queens who'd sometimes literally delay the elevator a minute with successive door-open waits for sequential late arrivals. At which point luckily the stopped elevator alarm went off putting an end to this mindless courtesy contest.

Haha; thank God our elevators point away from the maybe 150-meter hallway that's right next to it. We only pretend to ignore the sounds of advancing footsteps.

Hong Kong is worse than Taiwan and Singapore, but HK is light years ahead of the Mainland re: politeness, efficiency, brain cells, and all else good. The Mainland has never seen an elevator or subway door where people followed any kind of rational queue. It is always an all out battle royale.

It makes sense to empty the bottle(neck) before adding more stuff to it. Besides, if it takes too long for the elevator/subway to empty, and someone trying to enter is blocked out, they are just stuck waiting for the next train/car, or they can walk/ride other transport as available. If someone trying to exit is blocked in, they are being forcibly taken off their route and potentially to someplace they are unfamiliar with and/or they don't know how to get back from, and they have no escape options. The potential 'damage' done to the blocked-in exiting passenger is far higher than the damage to the blocked-off entrant.

Do none of Y'all value the esthetic experience of an elevator ride? Lack of pushing and jostling adds to the wonderful experienceand quality of life. Also all the jostling provides cover for those wishing to engage in we really want to provide cover for sex offenders with our "rude" behavior?

The most important aspect of these conventions is that they don't reward the most aggressive behavior. Waiting in groups, queuing up - these things basically are always full of suck. Don't arrange the social convention such that the most likely outcome is aggressive people pressing.

I was reminded of this when we had a flight to Budapest. The magyars created a horror show in Atlanta when they kept trying to crowd press their way onto the plane regardless of the hungarian stewardess explaining how zones work.

I prefer giving priority to exiters from confined spaces for two reasons: First, there's a limit to how many of them are in there. If no one is entering, then the flow of exiters must diminish at some point. Second, fear of cramming in more people than a finite space can safely hold. I want a crowd to be able to disperse if it needs to.

Perhaps it comes of being a fluid dynamics engineer, thinking in terms of control volumes and fluxes.

I also see I used term "confined space," which rings lots of safety bells for anyone who has ever worked in one. The mentality of entering a manhole carries over to walking into an elevator.

On the London Underground, there are frequently messages instructing passengers waiting on the platform to let others off the train first before boarding. That certainly seems like the most logical method.

The best system is the Spanish Solution, with a platform either side of the train. The doors open on both sides of the train so that passengers can enter and exit at the same time. The same principle is often seen on larger elevators.

If passengers know it will be difficult to get off a bus or subway train, many will remain near the doors and refuse to move to the interior rather than risk traveling beyond their stop.

Which results in poor utilization of that interior space, and unnecessary crowding on the vehicle.

Another question might be where the social equilibriums lie, and how they're maintained. How many "me first!" shovers does it take before those who were following the social convention abandon it? And once abandoned, is it ever possible to restore it?

"If passengers know it will be difficult to get off a bus or subway train, many will remain near the doors and refuse to move to the interior rather than risk traveling beyond their stop."

Most people remain near the doors regardless, due to plain laziness or cluelessness. It's not that big a deal, in fact it's advantageous if I know that I will be on the bus/train/subway for a lot of stops: I simply push past the inevitable knot of people standing within 10 feet of the doors, and make my way to the more distant interior. Where the density of people is about one-fourth the density by the doors, and there'll be more room to lean against something, put my stuff down, or even just grab a strap (in the crowded sections, one might find oneself with nothing to hang onto).

Fast car on open roads. It is a perfect picture for any car enthusiast. But you have to go to your work and also drop your kids to school. This is the real picture for most of us. We need to save time when we don't have any. A typical individual has so many odd jobs to complete that a car can, without doubt, facilitate their accomplishment. Financing your car doesn't fit your idea of the way of buying your car; then probably you are still stuck with traditional car buying methods. Shed your inhibitions with regard for car financing because it undoubtedly keeps in mind your financial caliber before furnishing you with a car finance loan.

Sometimes I think we try to overthink human interactions -- but then that is what academics and intellectuals do so....

In any case, I would think we might ask why we see this behavior on elevators and subways but not on the roads (though perhaps HK is like this on the roads as well). If speed is the goal wouldn't a cooperative/coordinated approach of entering on one side and exiting on the other be better that who can push first? Wouldn't that be more a more eligant Coasean solution than the illdefined who "is really in a big hurry"?

I think you have to consider the ratio of infrastructure to users. If infrastructure is tight, then the user will be competing with other users for a position in that a constrained supply. The competition is thus not between enterers and exiters, but between enterers and other enterers. In such a case, politeness risks losing a place in the queue; hence it becomes a free for all.

Take this to the extreme—where all the passengers on the train get off and are replaced with new passengers—and it's easy to see that this article's recommendation doesn't work.

Exiting like the enterers aren't there usually works.

Anyone who's been on the DC Metro knows that exiters are *not* in a hurry. They lollygag and shuffle, typically leaving many who want to board during rush hour standing on the platform as the doors close. The exiters know the norm is they have the right of way; they have first claim on the common pool of time that the doors remain open and won't bear the cost of moving slowly. But the exiters are also enterers at other times. People follow the norm, and perhaps feel entitled to take their time when exiting given the strandings they've experienced when trying to enter. Given such norm-following, we're in a bad equilibrium. Some Hong Kong style pushiness is probably optimal, though frankly I don't practice this.

I hope that this simultaneous exit and entrance situation occurs with the exiters leaving by one side of the car and the enterers coming in via the other side. No matter how accepted the situation might be, if you have to do the walk-by dance, it not only would defeat the purpose of hurrying the elevator along, but could easily lead to frayed nerves.

I live in a large southern city. Here the elevator process is women off, men off, women on, men on. It takes forever. I've lived and traveled throughout the US and this seems to be exclusive to the south.

That sounds like it will fuck up the packing order. LIFO ought to be it.

Yes, it necessarily involves interior shuffling, but maybe that's the intent. ;)

Let me just say that when I've been on a crowded subway car in the US, if you did not leave 'early' you might find it very difficult to leave at all since people will start rushing in at some point. In these situations, I have never seen anyone move with anything less than the utmost haste they are physically capable of mustering. However, the people needing to board always wait until most of the people leaving have already left. This practice does nothing to discourage fast exiting. So I don't know what the hell TC is talking about. If people start trying to board before the rush of people leaving is complete, that will just slow down the whole process and ultimately result in longer delays for everyone.

Its critical to this mode that there be a threateningly large body of people outside waiting to board. The worst chaos is in the middle load zone: not enough of an incoming mass to deter the stragglers.

This is a good observation. If you have a seat in the middle, you dare not wait until the train stops at your station. You have to get up and move toward the doors at least one stop in advance.

Not sure the guy who wrote this has spent much time in HK...the trains stop at the same place every time, so the doors match up with painted arrows on the floor which indicate that people entering should form two lines, one on each side of the door, and leave a space for people exiting in the center. For the most part, people do this. It works in Hong Kong because people are more inclined to follow rules there, but would not work in New York.
I lived in New York for 20 years and Hong Kong for 5 years and rode the subways a lot in both places.
That being said, subways in New York are a lot more crowded during rush hour. And despite popular lore, people in New York walk faster and are generally in much more of a hurry than people in Hong Kong.

I saw this on a platform in San Francisco on a recent business trip. It appears to work very well except for old Chinese women who always elbow their way to the front. I felt like giving them a good kick in their polar fleece.

I don't know why other stations in the same city don't have this coordination method. Maybe it is an experiment. I can't remember the name of the station, but it is in the Financial District.

"If some people ... are in a truly big hurry, they can barge forward. Furthermore, an exiter who is not in a hurry can hold back, knowing that someone will rush to fill the void, rather than ending up in the equilibrium of excessive politeness ..."

This reminds me of my road trips through italian inner cities. Coming from Germany, Italians seem to be insane drivers with no regard for rules. After a while though, it felt like the more fluid system once I stopped being offended by other drivers.

Funny though, once the route back home touched ground on the German Autobahn I realized the ruthlessness of German drivers towards anyone who is not "following the rules enough". Such an equilibrium of excessive politeness, seems to have the side-effect of excessive aggressiveness.

Living in Beijing, I think the word 'scrum' (rugby scrum) is a better term to describe getting onto a busy subway.

Now we are back to the zipper merge question where being an asshole is good for society.

It is far easier for everyone to get in/on if they let people out/off first. The airport tram at Dulles lets people in from one side and out the other - this is the most efficient from a loading, unloading perspective, but requires a larger platform 5:3.

Here in Chicago, I guess people are just more civilized.

Nice replies in return of this query with real arguments and explaining
the whole thing about that.

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#smallstepstowardabetterworld ?

What about the old lady who can't push her way through? Or the mom with a stroller?

More like "small steps for a better world only for those willing AND ABLE to push their way to the top." If you can identify that its a team of footballers on the elevator, by all means push through. But don't argue that the norm is on the whole a negative just because you can imagine situations where another process might be more efficient for YOU.

Common mistake of libertarian-minded folks

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