The cost of convenience

Go into any mall or large convention center today that has more than one floor and you will find escalators.  I have never understood the use of these mechanical stairs and have always questioned them.  With my focus on being as light as I can on the planet I have a new reason to question escalators today.

business-21652_640Any business with multiple floors will have an elevator for those who are physically unable to climb a flight of stairs, like me.   For the rest of their customers they have escalators.  Just try to find a flight of stairs in any of your favorite stores.  I have asked around and came up with one business in 150 miles that has stairs rather than escalators and that is Ikea.

Growing up I rarely saw escalators.  Our options were stairs or the elevator.  Are businesses worried that if you  have to exert yourself to climb a flight of stairs you won’t buy enough to reach their desired profits?

Even when I was able to walk well enough that most people didn’t realize I had a disability I never had the coordination to jump on an escalator, so from my point of view these are not made to help those with limited mobility, in my case they were much more dangerous than actually climbing a flight of stairs.

Today we are seeing a quickly rising cost in all our goods.  So with the prices rising and the environmental toll from the energy used to provide all our conveniences I went searching for answers to just how much escalators cost.

Here’s what I learned

  • The cost of a concrete flight of stairs for either indoor or outdoor specifically designed for commercial use will run $600 to $2,000, see my source here.
  • The cost of installing an escalator will run a business $15,000 to $50,000 depending on size.  Click here for the full article.
  • The Kilowatt hours to run one escalator annually will range from a low of 7,500 kWh to 60,000 kWh in  the largest ones found in airports or subway stations. Read more here.
  • The average home uses 11,040 kWh.
  • Based on my home state of Pennsylvania, the commercial cost of electricity per kWh was 10.26 cents in 2010 (the last year I could find figures).  This would add an additional $769.50 for the smallest escalator to $6,156 annually, you can view costs by state here.
  • One ton of coal provides 2,460 kWh/ton,  learn more here.

With this information I believe more businesses should look to Ikea who has chosen to install stairs instead of an elevator.  When I visit Ikea the elevator is directly next to the stairs.  The vast majority of people use the stairs, without grumbling, leaving the elevator for strollers and disabled.

What things do you notice businesses have chosen to use that is costing them money and wasting resources when another option is readily available?


42 thoughts on “The cost of convenience

  1. I will generally walk up a flight of stairs, if available. But coming down, if I have anything in my hands/arms, like luggage or a package, I prefer an escalator. I have a tendency to trip going down stairs. I don’t know why. I just don’t judge the step correctly, I guess. Anyways, a down escalator is extremely helpful to me (esp. in airports, as the elevators are usually hard to find, out of the way, and the capacity is small).

    • That is definitely a good reason to use an escalator. I envy people like you who can judge the timing of an escalator without falling trying to get on them. I have only flown once since 1981 and by then I needed a wheelchair to get through the airports, just too much walking for my body to be able to handle.

  2. VERY interesting post Lois. I have never thought of escalators in this light. Another great reminder of how we all take things for granted without thinking about them on a deeper level. Next time I do or don’t use an escalator I will think of you!–Kathy

  3. What an interesting discussion. My personal pet peeve about escalators is that they only go one direction, and usually in a big store they are positioned so that the up and the down criss-cross each other, and often there’s a maze of crap between one side and the other. I can’t count the number of times that I have had to weave my way through an entire store just to get to the right side of the escalator. Maybe that’s some sort of tactic to get you to see more of their merchandise, but personally I just find it terribly annoying. Wouldn’t a big staircase just be easier?

    • You would think stairs would be easier, my thought is that retailers realize how lazy people are believe they won’t climb a flight of stairs any more. Most of the ones I’ve seen have the up and down right next to each other, don’t be giving them any more ideas on how to drag people through more of their stuff just to escape! I wonder how much they have to jack the prices up just to pay for the escalator, installation and the electricity to keep it running.

  4. I hate escalators, and have gone searching for stairs many times to no avail. I was in a train station once with both hands carrying luggage, and it took me a long time to get on the stupid escalator–it was awful

    • I would have thought an escalator would be easier for someone with luggage if able bodied, but your experience makes me wonder even more if they are safe. Around here you have two choices escalators or elevators, stairs just aren’t available any more.

  5. In Ikea in Melbourne there is an escalator right next to the staircase to get into the store. I always take the stairs because it’s free exercise. Stairs give a good workout! I can remember being terrified of escalators as a little girl.

    • Jen, I never got over my fear of the escalators. The first time I saw one I remember stopping and trying to study and figure out the proper timing for it, of course I did a face plant much to my grand father’s embarrassment as he was the one who saw me falling but couldn’t catch me in time. I think it’s great that Melbourne gives you an option, wish here we had that choice.

  6. Great post! I haven’t been in a mall for quite a while. But i always take the stairs when they are an option. Its a mini work out and we need to use our bodies more, I do at least!

    • Exactly! That is exactly what I think. If your past time is shopping why not get a workout. We so often take the easy way for everything. I’m glad you realize the exercise is good for you. Like you, I don’t shop much so I don’t face the need to find a way to move between floors often.

  7. Interesting discussion. Another point to consider. I think from the business point of view, the escalators make sense to the mall owner. People tend to shop (browse) on the floor they come in on in a mall. If there’s not an easy or obvious way to go to the other floor, they may skip it. The escalators serve the purpose of directing people to another floor, so businesses on both floors get similar foot traffic. If this didn’t happen, it would be harder for the small stores to get customers and to stay in business. Then mall owners would have a harder time keeping their stores leased. So I think from a pure money stand point, even though escalators cost the building owners more money than a set a stairs, their usefulness outweighs the cost. And as mentioned above, they can move many more people per minute than an elevator.

    As for moving sidewalks, the first time I encountered one was in the Atlanta airport while I was flying for a job interview. I think at one point, the moving sidewalk was the only option I had. As I stepped on, it tore the heel off of my shoe. So when I was met at the airport to be taken to dinner for the first part of my interview, I looked a little awkward with my shoe situation. I can’t remember how everything else went, but I do know that was not the company I finally took the job with.

    • You have some good points. The city closest to us is a single floor mall, but the individual anchor stores such as Sears and Macy’s have a second floor which uses the escalators. I agree the escalator will move more people than an elevator, but I still think we are pretty lazy when we can’t take a simple flight of stairs to move to the next level, guess that’s just my opinion from someone who wishes they could still run up a flight of stairs (sour grapes maybe?)

      So with technology and in your case the moving sidewalk there is a large learning curve to using them? :-) I’m glad you weren’t hurt in the situation.

  8. Thankfully my local shopping centre has stairs in a couple of places but I think they could do with more stairs……..
    what really pisses me off is when I see young fit looking people waiting for the lift which is on the small side instead of taking the stairs or escalator………when I do take an escalator I have a habit of using my legs and walking either up or down it……………same goes for when I use one of those moving ramps……….which here are called travelators. We are breeding a lot of lazy people……………….

    • Thanks Joanne, I finally know what those moving sidewalks are called. I’m glad your shopping center has some stairs I was beginning to think from my area that they no longer existed. As a whole I would have to agree with you that we are creating a lot of lazy people, but it surprises me every time when I have the opportunity to visit Ikea that people never wait for the elevator unless they are either disabled or have strollers with them. Must be all the non lazy people shop there. I think it’s great that when you do ride elevators or travelators you walk them instead of just standing still, I’ve never seen anyone do that.

  9. When they become available to watch on internet I like the reality television series like Dragons Den where the business proposal is put before the investors. It is amazing how many delusional proposals are made which far from satisfying a need reinvents the wheel or makes something more complex.

    Of elevators I would add a few insights. If you are dealing with large movements of people elevators become impractical to cope. There are large volumes of disability in this world, especially the elderly so escalators can handle these in large volumes. If you have visited the underground in London some of these places go deep into the ground for which elevators and stairs would be impractical and restricting. I dislike both elevator and escalator. The Kings Cross fire is an example of an escalator that proved to be a death trap for dozens of people in a fireball because they never cleaned the rubbish under it.

    • I agree, when I was able bodied enough I always chose to use the stairs. Escalators are extremely dangerous for me so now I have to use elevators. I live in a town that has a large percentage of disabled in it, luckily there are no places that need an elevator other than the university of which I don’t need to visit often.

  10. Some of the newer stores here have forgone escalators, stairs, and elevators in favor of rolling ramps. That actually makes sense to me…even if the power goes off, you can push yourself up or down the ramp. When the power is on, it is kind of a relief to be able to rest and recoup a bit of energy. (There are definitely times when not having an easy way to get up from parking level has turned me back from the store. ) And overall, two ramps ( one up and one down) takes up less space than stairs + elevator.

    Escalators have never made sense to me..too dangerous, and like you said, even on my best days, I worry about timing it right. I never really considered the electric cost of the power ramps, just took it for granted that they were a swap for the other powered methods. Thanks for bringing that up.

    • I haven’t seen any of the rolling ramps you mentioned. Are these electrical ramps like people movers in airports only on an incline? Glad I’m not the only one who finds escalators dangerous.

        • That’s interesting. Rather than something like that we have small buses that drive around and pick up people who can’t walk as far to the outdoor events, but that’s as close as it comes here, then again the closest city is a small one so the mall isn’t that large. I’ll have to ask my son if in his city (which is much larger) if they have something like that.

          • Hmmm haven’t been in a mall lately, so can’t speak to that. These are stores in town, parking on the first few floors and the shopping above. I still don’t think that ramps would lure me to a mall. No matter where I find parking, it’s always a hike to where I need to go. And all the people squashed together…I like humans, but not necessarily strangers pressed against me.
            The energy in malls just drains me. But I know a lot of people that really enjoy them. They are festive, I think, like a giant party.

          • That’s interesting to have the shopping above the first floors. Here in town we have stores on the first floor and apartments upstairs so it’s not an issue for the most part.

            I hate malls, the recycled air, the fluorescent lighting, and all the people. I never see anything I like as I like to have things that are unique. Plus it’s so darn expensive.

  11. As a child my foot was caught in an escalator while shopping with Grandpa. I have avoided them as a result of what seemed like a trauma to a child. In Montana we didn’t see them very much as the buildings there mostly kept to elevators and stairs. The theme there was to build out rather than up because the availability of space was endless. I don’t really understand the need for these either. If they want convenience, put in an elevator. With the rise of obesity in this country (myself included) you would think stairs would be a nice contribution.

    • I do understand after a couple of times of face planting myself on the moving steps of an escalator and the embarrassment that followed I too would start to get anxious when faced with one and look for another way to reach the floor I needed. Have to say too after falling up them I have never had the guts to try going down an escalator. I think now that people are used to the escalators and those with obesity issues would rebel at taking them out. I too have weight issues from lack of movement so when I see able bodied people taking short cuts it bothers me. I will be the first to confront someone using a handicap parking space if they have no signs of impairment as well.

  12. I am not disabled, well at least I don’t consider I am just because I need a walking stick, I will not shop in a place without an escalator or a lift. Many shops in Brazil don’t have a lift, but they have an escalator. It would be interesting to see the costs of installing and running a lift compared with an escalator. I am also assuming that lifts have tighter regulations than an escalator. Stairs for me are definitely a strain on the legs.


    • The link which I included on the cost of operating an escalator compared the costs of the elevator to the escalator. In the end, the elevator was cheaper because it runs intermittently rather than constantly. I wish I could say all I needed was a walking stick, but I love your attitude of not classifying yourself as disabled. Interesting that elevators aren’t as wide spread in Brazil as in the US.

      • I’m a bad boy. I didn’t check that link… I suspected that the elevator would be cheaper for that reason. However, I mentioned the regulations, to comply could also be very expensive. Use of elevators in Brazil is common because we have many high rises. Copacabana is the most densely populated suburb in the world where the majority of apartment buildings are 20 stories, need elevator. But malls, etc with two or three floors, have escalators as well as lifts for the disabled (wheelchairs) but one has to find the ‘key’ for access. Personally, I find the escalator faster to use.


        • I’m not sure if the regulations would be more on the elevator or the escalator, I would think the escalators would need to be checked as well, but this is something I didn’t check into. My high school had one elevator, but to keep the kids from playing with it you needed to have a key to use it not so in a shopping mall. for me an escalator usually involved a fall on my face as to get on I had to hold the railing then switch my stance to climb the step, that always threw me off balance, even with assistance I usually ended up falling up them so I quit using them when I did encounter them.

  13. Great research ~ it costs a lot (in time and resources) for what is superfluous when a set of stairs will do. I agree with the comment about escalators really only being useful in an airport. I remember seeing my first escalator at Logan Airport in Boston at a young age. I was mesmerized. I had only seen stairs and elevators up til then. Decades later, I saw my first “slide walk” at the airport in Atlanta ~ it confused the heck out of me and I almost lost my balance.
    I have been enjoying your site and your posts. Thank you so much!

    • Thanks Tammy. You can tell how much I travel, I couldn’t even remember what those things are that carry you through the airports. I hoped everyone would know what I meant. I agree, when you are rushed trying to get a connecting flight and may have children and bags with you an escalator would be helpful.

  14. I think the only place they make sense is airports or train stations. But I guess they mostly have lifts/elevators there too.

    • The first time I ever saw a people mover (like an escalator but to avoid walking great distances) was in 1981 at the Los Angeles Airport. I couldn’t believe people needed to stand on a conveyor belt rather than walk through the airport, but everyone there told me I was nuts to walk when this would be so much easier.

    • I haven’t been in one either, which is why I asked around. Glad to know I’m not the only one who thinks they are ridiculous. Do they really think people won’t buy something if they need to actually put the effort into walking up a flight of stairs?

      • I suspect you are like me and wouldn’t buy anything either – but mostly because it’s not actually needed. It’s been wonderful, the last few years – I ask myself if I really need something and the answer has always been “no”. The exception being purchases that I do actually need, so I research them and go for the specific purchase of buying that item only – and often second hand, if I can find it.

        • Yes, we are very much a like in that respect. I have found that there is very little I need that I have to buy new. I am about to reupholster the beat up loveseat and will need new cushions and fabric but those are items that aren’t bought often. As for everyday living, other than food and gifts I get most everything second hand.

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