Assume that you are on the seventh floor waiting for one of three elevators.
Car 1 can arrive in 15 seconds but the total wait time will be 25 seconds because it has a stop on the eighth floor. Closer, Car 2 is 10 seconds away and Car 3, only five. So, the elevator system sends Car 3 to pick you up.
The pandemic has made the math much more painful.
Pandemic elevator etiquette suggests that we stay in the corner, face the wall, and push the button with your toothpick. Thyssenkrupp Elevator, created the following infographic:
In a 52-story building with 24 elevators, 3,000 people will need 750 trips when occupancy is limited to four riders. They also could add floor decals telling people where to stand, stagger arrival, departure, and lunch times, and use express service. For cleaning, HVAC purification, foot activated elevator buttons, hourly hand disinfecting, and ultraviolet light cleaning systems are possibilities. (Or you could just take the stairs. Unless you are a stair racer, it will take 25 minutes.)
When asked about this new kind of safety, elevator experts say your risk depends on the number of stops, the ventilation, size, speed, and how long the doors stay open. When an engineering dean modeled a typical trip, he based it on infected Passenger A who rides from the first floor to the 10th, alone, in 31 seconds. Not wearing a mask, the person talks on a cell phone, and coughs. When Passenger A exits, he takes germs out with him and leaves some behind. The doors remain open for 10 seconds.
Then, descending 10 floors, the elevator arrives at the lobby where a new passenger enters. That second passenger is exposed, maybe, to 25 percent of whatever Passenger A exhaled. Doctors just do not know if Passenger B gets sick. The question is whether the small particles remain in the air and how much the infected areas are touched. Many say the risk is small.
Our Bottom Line: Tradeoffs
The pandemic seems always to return us to the tradeoff between safety and some other benefit like speed. When we choose elevator safety, we sacrifice the speed that saves time. When we spend the dollars to disinfect, we have less to spend elsewhere. With demand and supply, safety has a cost.
The choice though is not all or nothing. We can moderate each alternative and increase or decrease its benefits.
My sources and more: Thanks to MarginalRevolution for alerting me to the KHN elevator story. From there, NPR and the NY Times had many more details. But, if you are interested in elevator economics, I recommend this Popular Mechanics article. Thanks to my granddaughter Lila for adding the mask in the elevator infographic.
Please note that several of today’s sentences were in a previously published econlife post and, for better clarity, I slightly edited the post after publication.