Cash Crunch Idles Escalators

A sign directs people away from an escalator at UN headquarters in NYC. People instead must use stairs or an elevator; photo via IPS.

The United Nations in October turned to austerity measures, including the shutdown of the escalators in its NYC headquarters building, after some of its annual member-country contributions — including from the U.S. — became past-due, leaving the intergovernmental organization strapped for cash. According to the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency, some of these measures have put a serious crimp in the U.N.’s mission, such as cutbacks on translation and interpretation services, travel and operating hours. Officials have acknowledged, however, that the escalator shutdowns are meant more as a symbolic gesture to draw attention to the missed payments, rather than a substantial money-saving move. Complaints by diplomats resulted in restoration of escalator service to floors used by envoys, but a moving staircase used mostly by U.N. staffers and journalists remains shut down. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. spends about US$14,000 to operate the escalator, and repeated questions from reporters have led to the suggestion of using the recently installed Gandhi Solar Park — a US$1-million, 50-kW solar array that was a gift from the Government of India — to power the idled unit. “I’m barely a spokesman,” Dujarric said in response to the suggestion. “I don’t think I’m an electrical engineer, but I will see where that electricity goes.” A U.N. official said the austerity measures are only temporary, and that full services would be restored once cash-flow problems are resolved.

Germs? What Germs?

The Te Papa Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, wants to find the subject of this nearly 50-year-old photograph taken by Max Oettli; image via nzherald.co.nz.

An exhibition of historical photographs in New Zealand has launched something of a sleuthing effort to identify the subject of one of the show’s many compelling images: a young girl, apparently seeing an escalator for the first time, captured on film licking the moving stairs’ handrail. The 1970 photo was taken by noted photographer Max Oettli, a Swiss-born longtime resident of New Zealand whose iconic images are part of a show called “The New Photography — Life in the ’60s and ’70s” on display through October 13 at Wellington’s Te Papa Museum. Athol McCredie, a curator at the museum, told the NZ Herald that Oettli captured the image inside a department store that had new escalators. “To a child who had never seen an escalator before, this belt (handrail) might have looked like a giant licorice strap,” McCreadie said.

Then again, who knows what goes through the mind of child? If she comes forward, maybe we’ll find out.

Escalators as Security Scanners

You’re riding up to the concourse anyway — why not let the escalator take some of the trouble out of flying?

For anyone who’s ever been annoyed or bewildered by the security-check process at airports — a demographic that includes virtually everyone who flies — inventors Charles Bombardier and Ashish Thulkar have a solution that will guide travelers through the process quickly, easily and without a second thought. They call it the Aerochk, a security scanning system mounted on an escalator that checks person, passport and carry-on simultaneously.

Passport, person and luggage enter the scanners simultaneously, keeping all three tagged together in the system.

The system, featured in online magazine Yanko Design, allows travelers to ride up to the gate concourse next to their luggage and passports, which ride on separate conveyors. All reach the top at the same time, squared away and ready to board. Now, if these guys would only turn their attention to the Department of Motor Vehicles and supermarket checkouts …

When travelers reach the top, it’s simply a matter or picking up their passports, grabbing their bags and heading to the gate.