The COVID 19 Pandemic has required stay at home restrictions of varying degrees throughout most of the countries and jurisdictions in the world.  This reality has led to work and school from home for most people.   Office buildings have been largely unoccupied except for occasional tenant use and essential building personnel.  Multi-Residential buildings have seen a dramatic reduction in use of the common space and elevators.  As the restriction to stay at home is gradually lifted but the requirement for physical distancing continues we will see more people leaving their residential buildings and travelling to their office buildings.  The elevators are a critical pinch point for access to and/from the suites in both residential and office buildings and create a real challenge to physical distancing.

(Photo by JUNI KRISWANTO / GETTY Images)

In order to maintain a 2 metre physical distance most commercial office buildings can fit a maximum of two people in opposite corners diagonally.  Even then the processes of entering and exiting the elevator and selecting a floor button in a traditional elevator dispatching system can bring people in closer contact.  As COVID19 restrictions ease we are likely to see requirements for between 2 – 4 people per elevator. As physical distancing cannot be maintained we will also expect other methods of protection such as operator assistance for floor selection, mandatory mask use and floor markings for how and where to stand.

(Photo from Toronto Public Health)

With most elevators designed to carry 8 – 16 people this restriction will significantly limit the elevator efficiency during peak morning, lunch and evening periods potentially creating long line-ups and long waiting times for elevator passengers.  To avoid this situation we must “flatten the curve” of people using the elevator system at the same time.  There are many ways to achieve this but they all rely on communication and agreement with tenants and residents to limit building occupancy and time the arrivals and departures of tenants based on the capability of the elevator system.

Flattening the curve

Elevator engineers use an Up-peak calculation to identify the elevator capacity.

In order to do the calculation we need to know how many elevators, the speeds and capacities, the building population and a few other factors.  The calculation takes a long time to do manually.  Accordingly we use specialized software to arrive at the elevator transport ability (handling capacity) and then we complete computer simulations to make sure it will work in the real world. 

We can then advise how many people should be allowed to use the elevators if limited to two people during the morning peak (for example) to provide a reasonable level of service and not overwhelm the lobby space.  We believe that an acceptable level of service would be for an average wait time of 60 seconds in the busiest five minute period (as compared to 35 seconds during normal non-COVID 19 operation). We also will look for a longest wait time of 120 seconds or less and a maximum queue length of 15 – 20 people in the lobby during the morning up-peak period.  These service levels are greater than the typical Class A office standard but strike a balance between the needs of the tenants to use the building and the limited capacity of the elevators while not creating an unmanageable situation.

We can simulate all of the various options from the number of people in the elevator to different peak periods and population densities.  If you would like a sample report or wish to discuss your particular building situation please contact us.