The Blame Game

When an elevator or escalator breaks down or is out of service, who’s to blame?

With misinformation everywhere, it’s time to separate fact from fiction.

By Amy J. Blankenbiller, Executive Director, National Elevator Industry, Inc.

Fun fact #1: There are more than 1 million elevators and escalators between the U.S. and Canada that make more than 20 billion trips every year.

Fun fact #2: Building transportation systems are the safest form of public transportation in the world, and they are also the most used.

With the vast number of miles ridden annually, it is only natural that regular maintenance is required. No multistory building or city is immune to the need for elevators and escalators to be maintained properly. And maintenance means downtime because it is too dangerous for mechanics to work on equipment that is still in service.

Sometimes equipment may breakdown as well. Equipment can be out of service anywhere from minutes to weeks or longer depending on the circumstances, parts needed and their availability, complexity of the work, and many other factors. For some reason, however, these service disruptions tend to draw more attention than when a flight gets cancelled, or a car breaks down. And it seems like the media is often eager to point the finger at the party they feel deserves all the blame – the elevator service provider.

What’s the real story?

Let’s start with better understanding the role of the elevator industry in building transportation. There are three aspects to the building transportation industry – manufacturing, modernization and service/repair. Yes, there are a limited number of elevator manufacturers, and these same companies also do the majority of modernizations in North America, but when it comes to service/repair, however, there are hundreds of companies – large and small – that undertake this work.

Now let’s consider some of the assertions that have arisen in the media lately.

Statement: Manufacturers design their units in a manner so they can be the only ones to perform service, forcing building owners and property managers into long-term relationships they don’t want to be in. Is this fact or fiction? It is fiction.  

Safety codes require manufacturers to supply special tools if needed for their equipment, as well as unique procedures to guide other companies in how to work on their systems. Yes, technology can be “proprietary” but that is not unique to the elevator industry – many companies design equipment and develop processes/procedures that are not shared with competitors. But the key is whether or not equipment is “serviceable” and, all elevator and escalator equipment is serviceable by companies other than the manufacturer.  

Statement: Elevator service providers “bully” building owners and property managers into bad service contracts. Fact or fiction? This assertion too is fiction.

First, all elevators should be serviced on a regular basis to check equipment and ensure proper functionality. Promoting regular service  is not a  provider trying to get more money out of a customer, but rather those companies being responsible partners in ensuring the safety of that building’s tenants and guests. The responsibility for securing a service contract is on the building owner or manager, and the terms of that contract are ultimately determined by the building owner or managerand not the service provider.

Second, the enforcement of the applicable safety codes is the responsibility of the jurisdiction. So, when there is a failed safety inspection, it is the responsibility of the jurisdiction to take appropriate actions to ensure those systems are brought into compliance.

Statement: If an elevator has failed an inspection, that means it poses serious or life-threatening risks. Fact or fiction. Again, this statement is fiction.

A non-complaint inspection could be the result of a low risk issue such as a missing light on a button panel or missing signature on a form. It is critical to understand the root cause of a failed inspection as oftentimes the reasons elevators may be taken out of service is for minor issues.

Statement: The age of equipment can play a role in equipment being taken out of service for extended periods of time. Fact or fiction? This statement is a fact.

But the age of equipment alone does not result in breakdowns or equipment being out of service for extended periods of time. Many times, these issues arise because building owners or managers skip routine maintenance, delay modernizations, or forgo investing in necessary upgrades.

The lifespan of an elevator is 20 to 25 years, although there is legacy equipment in operation that is 30 or more years old. Think about driving a car built in 1988 with more than 200,000 miles on it. The greatest mechanic can be performing the highest level of service, but that car is going to break down if key components are not replaced when needed. We accept this “standard operating procedure” when it comes to automobiles and have no issue replacing belts, plugs, electronics and transmissions. So why are people unwilling to accept that elevators that are 25 years old too?

Readers should now have a better understanding of why elevators shut down or need to be taken down out of service, but what causes equipment to be out of service for an extended length of time?

Here are the facts.

Supply chain issues and parts shortages have impacted all industries due to the pandemic and recent geo-political events, and the elevator industry is no exception. Medium covered this issue when it discussed how the semiconductor shortage was impacting elevators as modern elevator systems rely on semiconductors for motor control, data transmission and interface with touchscreens, sensors and communication systems. The age of equipment can also impact the availability of parts as many companies do not stockpile large quantities of parts for elevators that are more than 30 years old.  

There is also a lack of qualified elevator mechanics. NEII, NEIEP and the IUEC are working together to grow the talent pipeline with a heightened focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion through partnerships with organizations like SkillsUSA, which is developing the skills of  students interested in pursuing a career in the trades.

The elevator industry is constantly working to ensure building transportation remains the safest form of transportation. And while there will always be obstacles (we didn’t even touch upon how human error and misuse can shut down or damage vertical transportation systems), the elevator industry will always put the safety of passengers and its workers first. So, the next time an elevator or escalator is out of service, I urge you to separate fact from fiction.

To stay up to date on the elevator industry, follow the National Elevator Industry, Inc. on its social media channels and bookmark

About NEII

NEII is the premier trade association representing the global leaders in the building transportation industry. Its members install, maintain, and/or manufacture elevators, escalators, moving walks, and other building transportation products. NEII‘s membership includes the six major international companies – Fujitec America, Inc., KONE, Inc., Mitsubishi Electric US, Inc., Otis Elevator Company, Schindler Elevator Corporation, TK Elevator and several other companies across the country. Collectively, the NEII members represent approximately eighty-five percent of the total hours worked within the elevator and escalator industry, employ more than 25,000 people in the U.S. and indirectly support hundreds of thousands of American jobs in affiliate industries. 

For more information about NEII, please visit

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