The U.S. and the VTIP

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by Hanno van der Bijl
Elevator World’s Vertical Transportation Industry Profile (VTIP) is a semi-annual study on the global elevator industry. We gather as much data as we can on the number of elevators and escalators around the world, and publish our findings along with market reports and analyses. Collecting data for the project afforded me the opportunity to go on a virtual tour of the U.S. In recognition of Independence Day this week, I thought it appropriate to share some of my experiences in the world of U.S. elevator inspectors with you.

Fragmentation

Like many aspects of American private and public life, the elevator industry is marked by fragmentation. Different laws governing elevator inspections reflect different cultural mores and political ideologies. For some areas of the country, it is a matter of public versus private regulation. States like Delaware, Kansas, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, and Virginia could not provide any data, because they don’t have a law mandating statewide elevator inspections. In those cases, I had to go county by county or city by city, trying to contact a fire marshal or other building inspector who might have information on elevators in their jurisdiction. It was fascinating to see how different the websites were for different cities, counties and states. Some Midwestern cities would list the population on their website. It is true that there are towns that have just a handful of people living in them!

To further complicate matters, inspectors in states such as Ohio, Oklahoma and Washington will inspect all the elevators except those of its large cities. So, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, for example, have their own inspectors. Interestingly enough, New York state does not have a state elevator inspector but New York City and Buffalo do. Mississippi had just got on board last year with statewide inspection, and was eager to participate in the survey. Different states adhere to different versions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) elevator codes. In a couple cases, states follow very old versions of the code.

Bureaucrazy and Personalities

Some states function on a highly bureaucratic scale. In many cases, this is understandable due to their population size, governmental system and political climate. The only challenge is that the point person may be virtually inaccessible or extremely busy. Or, if you are unsure who the point person is, you may go from person to person, trying to find the right contact with the information. You may be sent to a records keeper. Talking to that person often provides the opportunity to give and receive empathy. You realize that departments suffer limitations in staff and are affected by the state of the industry in their jurisdiction. Some inspectors face a backlog, because the man power to service and repair broken elevators is lacking.

Inspectors may have the records in front of them but it is a challenge for them to extract the kind of data we are looking for. Their own system may be inadequate or ill-equipped to tell you, for example, how many moving walks there are in their jurisdiction. In compiling and maintaining their records, they give priority to tracking certain aspects of the units, while we are simply looking for their total number. Some states were happy just to send their excel spreadsheets with the data for me to process. In some cases, extracting data from reports off and online was arduous work, explaining why state agents were not eager to provide the information I was looking for.

The personalities of the state elevator inspectors are predictably representative of each area of the country. In most cases, this is an enjoyable part of the research. In those cases where it is not, you simply have to find the humor in it. With regards to my interactions with them, you could map an inspector’s personality in one of four quadrants:

friendly and compliant
friendly but noncompliant
unfriendly but compliant
unfriendly and noncompliant

Washington state was friendly and compliant. It was an absolute pleasure talking to Jack Day. There was at least one state that was friendly but noncompliant. My brother, who lives there, simply told me that it is the state’s “way.” A few states were unfriendly but compliant. That was okay, I thanked them and simply moved on. As for the unfriendly and noncompliant states, I had to figure out a workaround. Anything else would have been a waste of time.

What was that workaround? Sometimes, persistence paid off, other times it called for submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to who you know. I received data for one state that I had completely given up on after a contact in the industry who lives in that state got the information from the right person.

See For Yourself

Some states take pride in efficiency. Indiana’s state website claims that it is, “A State That Works.” When it comes to inspecting elevators, they are not kidding around. The states below make their records publicly available online:

And, if you haven’t done so already, you can purchase a copy of the VTIP 2014 in our online bookstore.

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