More than Meets the Sky


Maggie Sun, Staff Writer

Two sets of elevators dilute my recent memory. The first makes its home in an old Chinese apartment building, creaking back and forth with a sour, milky gait. Residents press a dinky button and wait for the digital numbers to count up or down to their floor. The second is more modern, situated in a swanky building downtown. Hotel-goers on the 70th floor scan a glossy card and tap a room floor into its touchscreen.

The modern elevator is widespread in both the real world and its pop culture. Elevators are featured prominently in television shows and movies, and possess notable levels of linguistic and humorous clout. The charming backstory of elevator music, however, does not do the elevator’s complexity justice. Here is my longline elevator pitch on the consumer-oriented factors that make elevators fascinating and relevant. 

There is much to discuss and explore in regards to elevators. Their significance in pop culture as an object of development could be analyzed for hours, and the history of their archaic precedents is extremely illustrious. This article in particular will present and elaborate on an integral mathematical concept to the elevator. 

Customer Safety 

The yellow Chinese elevator system services an apartment building that claws 27 floors upward to the unclaimed sky. Safety, perhaps, is a concern for a system so worn. 

It is important to note that elevators are incredibly safe vehicles of transportation—their ubiquity might suggest otherwise, but elevator accident rates are incredibly low. Most fatal elevator accidents involve mechanics rather than casual users. Surely, if one were to choose between having to ride an elevator or car for the rest of their life, it would be inconceivably wise for this decision-maker in question to select the elevator.

Elevator safety is not a chance occurrence (safety, in fact, rarely is). The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration lays out incredibly rigid guidelines for elevator safety, including a mandate that “elevator landing openings shall be provided with doors.” This is incredibly reassuring. Knowing that the elevators in this country will be “provided with doors” would let laymen and experts alike sleep soundly at night.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, meanwhile, claims to continue to “set the pace in the elevator-and-escalator industry.” Safety, then, is not a great worry for American elevator-goers. However, the mechanics behind this safety and customer service are worth investigating.

Customer Service

The glossy hotel elevator system pings almost immediately upon floor input. Seconds later, its golden doors coast open—dictated under the mechanisms of system response time. 

One particularly fascinating facet of the elevator is the passenger waiting time, the length of the time interval between the passenger’s pressing of the elevator button and its arrival. Its main interpretation is as a metric of the performance of an elevator system. 

Passenger waiting time, however, can be viewed under different scopes of judgement—for example, waiting time in office buildings is expected to be under 40 seconds, while in apartment buildings it can reasonably go up to 90 seconds. While the reason is largely self-evident, this is because work necessitates more impatience than simple residence.

The data around this concept is particularly interesting. Apartment elevators in the U.K. have shorter-than-average wait times, while in India they have greater-than-average wait times. 

This measurement is also an important economical factor for elevator systems. More elevators in a building will increase transportation productivity and lower passenger waiting times, but are obviously more expensive. Architects, therefore, consider a building’s population, traffic, and purpose in their judgement of its elevator-system-to-be. For an elevator system to efficiently serve building-goers requires precision and balance on the part of the appraiser.

Beyond the passenger waiting time, numerous factors play into these mathematical calculations of elevator efficiency. “Door Dwell 1”, as an example, is the length of time after an elevator’s doors open before they attempt to close once again. “Door Dwell 2”, correspondingly, measures the length of time after the initial opening to the second attempted close. 

Legal regulations also call for elevators to be handicap-accessible, with enough car area and accomodations for a wheelchair to move and press buttons comfortably. Elevator designs cater highly to accessibility in many ways—home floors are carefully laid out based on traffic, while elevator layout is designed to streamline walking paths.

Customer Conclusion

Building elevators, then, is a labor of love. Planning elevator systems requires a degree of patience and foresight toward passengers, a deep level of care for convenience and temperament. Two sets of elevators dilute my recent memory—both alike in compassion and humanity.


Photo courtesy of IBERDROLA.COM