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The lifts

Lift buttonsThe other day some colleagues were having a little rant about the lifts, which in recent weeks have been performing badly.

I blogged about this ages ago — in many buildings the problem is not the position or size of the lifts, but how they’re programmed. Evidently in 13 years, not much has changed.

Apart from simply responding to the call button, lifts should have a few basic assumptions programmed into them:

Before 10am, and between about 1pm and 2pm, lots of people will enter office buildings and want to go up, so the lifts should default to the ground floor.

The ground floor is where most people enter, so the system should not assume that because one lift has responded to a call, it can cope with everybody entering. More lifts should respond, and they shouldn’t make people play that game of waiting for the first lift to depart before being able to press the call button again.

It would also be useful to have lifts default to the non-ground floors (perhaps evenly spaced, and even ignoring unoccupied floors) at peak exit times such as between 11:30 and 12:30, and after 4pm.

Optionally, they could get a little smarter, for instance learning the patterns in the building, which floors are quiet and busy at which times of day.

Really, how hard could it be?

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

24 replies on “The lifts”

…and then you will know to start worrying when all the lifts retreat to the basement and don’t respond to button presses?

Uh! Lifts are the bane of my building at the moment. We had 3 lifts that were always pretty dicey. Doors closing on people, arriving in the morning and seeing the lift sitting at Ground. Pressing Up watching the lift shoot to level one, then to the basement then coming back and opening it’s doors…. Many other strange occurrences in similar vain.

Finally they’ve decided to fix them. 3 months each lift it will take. One is done (and is vastly improved including returning to ground by itself it seems!), one is being done and the 3rd one is still crazy.

The worst part is now we have 2 buttons for 2 different lifts because the new and old systems are not compatible. As most of the floors do not tell you what floor the lift is on (only the ground floor does) everyone inevitably presses both buttons and gets in whichever one comes first. So the second lift to respond turns up at an empty floor while people on other floors are still furiously pressing both buttons….

I work in the building industry and have looked at a few lift control systems. Most of them, as you say have the failing that only 1 lift responds at any 1 time. In my building this is a huge problem after a fire drill and 1500 people want to use 3 lifts (the best solution is to go for a coffee!). Certainly avoiding this when there is significant directional flow (morning and arvo peak) should’t be too hard but i haven’t hear of it being done.

Regarding staggering lifts up the building, most modern systems (last 10 years or so) the lifts simply park where they are last used to save energy. So if you take a lift to 5th floor it will stay there until needed. This is fine for non-peak times but can increase wait times at the end of the day when people are heading down but all the lifts are parked on ground floor.

There are some very fancy systems where the controls on goind floor allow you to enter then floor you’re travelling to. If many people are travelling to different floors several lifts will be dispatched to service the calls most efficiently.

Not so sure about sending two lifts to the ground floor for one call, but then if they default to the ground floor in the am peak, the effect would be the same. Some lifts are very smart. Our home lifts are of only average intelligence.

@Jane, love the Paternosters! I didn’t know the name until now. The Wikipedia article’s section on references in culture misses out the one in the hotel in Tintin’s The Calculus Affair.

Lol @ Grant – just go out the window.

I remember spending many hours playing SimTower and never really succeeding in having the type of elevator service you are seeking once my building got beyond a medium size. Mind you, I think those patrons deliberately travelled in non-predictable ways, just to bug me.

The lifts at 50 Marcus Clarke Street, Canberra, have a fairly intelligent program in them. You key in the level you want to go to using a 12 key numeric keypad, and it assigns a lift to take you there.

It’s easy to outsmart it if you need two lifts. Only four of them go to the basement, so if you call one for Ground (Level 0), there’s a 50-50 chance it will send A, B, G or H. If it does, you then key in Basement 1 (Level -1), and it will dispatch C, D, E or F, and you then key in Ground (Level 0), which will assign the job to the car headed in that direction.

Or, better still, you key in 0, and it will invariably dispatch a lift as far as possible from where you’re standing, and then key in 0 again and press the wheelchair button, which dispatches the closest lift to the keypad you just used..

I’ll definitely lobby for our office building to upgrade to that one if available! Lift traffics is sometimes more annoying that street traffic. Do keep us posted, maybe you can pioneer this technology. Must be big money :) Goodluck!

Rules for life –
Unless injured or disabled etc then never use a lift if you are going up less than three floors. Walk.
Same goes for going down – but double the distance.

And Daniel have you emailed the building manager? Contacted the company that maintains them? Put it on the agenda of the employee / management change committe?

However I agree with you and have started a facebook page.

I spent some time working in Auckland in the Vero building, which also has ‘fancy’ lifts. it worked great, except when people tried to use the lifts who were unaware of the system. They’d follow the crowd and line up for a lift but then panic once they got in cos there aren’t any floor buttons inside the lift and they would have to just wait it out until the lift returned to the ground and try again. Giggle.

I used to work in the Masonic tower in Sydney and we had one of those key-in-your-number lifts. They were great, four lifts went to the lower half of floors and four went to the higher levels. You’d punch in your number and often if you couldn’t fit in the first a second would appear straight away. I found that in general that system eliminated most annoying lift features.

Now I’m stuck in a building where the lift breaks down multiple times a day :(

Daniel, I don’t the lift in The Calculus Affair is a paternoster. It’s labeled “LIFT” and has a lift attendant. Pretty sure it’s just two adjacent lifts.

@pie, you’re right, it’s a lift. I was sure in one of the Tintin books there’s a paternoster. Obviously will have to read them all again. (Bummer.)

Oh Daniel, if these are your biggest lift gripes, then trust me, you have *nothing* to complain about. Try working in my building for a while.

Early twentieth century building, four floors (although one is a car park), two lifts to service the whole building. I don’t know how many people work in the building, but the floors are very large open-plan offices, and the lifts are crowded and constantly on the go at peak times. Only one lift will respond to a call button, and it appears to be whichever lift is nearest. Still, if both lifts are working, it’s tolerable.

However, as soon as one lift fails, the situation becomes unbearable.

The logical way to program the lifts would be to have the working lift recognise that the other lift is out of action, so it (the working lift) must respond to all calls.

But that would be too sensible. What actually happens is that the working lift is incapable of understanding that the other lift isn’t working, so if the non-working lift is closer to whoever pushed the call button, the working lift will just sit there.

Example: Working lift is on level 3. Non-working lift is on level 2. Employee is on the ground floor. Employee presses the call button. Working lift thinks “the other lift is closer, so I’ll stay where I am.” Non-working lift thinks nothing at all, because it isn’t working. And so employee waits on the ground floor. And waits. And waits. And waits, until someone on level 3 (where the working lift is) wants to go somewhere and gets in the lift and sends it to the ground floor.

And yes, if anyone is wondering, I have reported this fault. Repeatedly. It’s just one of many faults with the building, so I’m not holding my breath that it’s going to be fixed any time soon.

I use the stairs a lot. :-)

HY – I’m pretty sure I work in the same building as Julian… and I would give a lot to be able to use the stairs. But you can’t, because the doors to each floor are locked, supposedly for security purposes. Apparently intruders are not capable of catching the lift up. There is absolutely no common sense in our building!!!

@HY, if I took up every cause I blogged about, I’d never have time for anything else. Agree with your philosophy on taking the stairs though; not possible in some buildings, mind you.

The City Loop needs an extra tunnel for lifts. I should be able to key in at level 20 on Spencer Street that I want to go to Parliament Station. The lift should travel in the tunnel to the train station and return to my building. In the morning you would swipe a card at Parliament and the lift for your building would come and pick you up. The lift would move horizontally in the tunnels and vertically in the buildings.

That way I get to walk less.

logic-seeking lifts – where it goes to nearest demand, rather than in the direction the first person/floor wants to go, initially. so to floor 5, who wants to go down, but wait, 6 wants to go down, so detour there briefly… Also some kind of indication that the lift is full, and it shouldn’t stop at any more floors. How often does a full lift stop at a floor (and open its doors twice) ? They have weight sensors…

Just as an aside, in the morning, if you were the last one out of the lift, you could send it down again for the next person that is likely to arrive.

Maybe someone (or a team) in the company should ‘cost’ the loss of productivity due to “unmanaged lift traffic”. Show what it will end up costing the company when it’s time to do the company budget. Or how much money they can save putting a better lift system in place.

Bottom line: Find a way to turn this issue into the biggest decision maker’s worst nightmare, one that he can easily triumph over by installing smarter lifts and with the promise of a good return on investment.

Unless today’s lift systems are sold a lot like some cars where they make a loss on selling the product and then make up for it by selling the replacement parts that break down all the time.

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