Thursday, January 28, 2021

How an Elevator Is Like a Traffic Light





Assume that you are on the seventh floor waiting for one of three elevators or that you are in your car, pausing for a red light.

There are similarities.

Wait Times

Let’s start with some elevator basics.

In most buildings, elevators continue in the same direction when occupied or picking someone up. Then, if all requests for a certain direction are satisfied, the elevator waits for the new call. While skyscrapers have more complex algorithms, they also can create what one paper called, “elevator pain.”

Elevator Pain

Our elevator pain is composed of wait time and travel time. Together they equal our journey time. Our wait time starts when we enter the lobby and ends when the elevator arrives. Then, travel time begins and continues uneventfully to our destination or there might be several stops if other riders enter and exit.

Researchers have quantified the pain we experience during each segment of our journey time. They concluded that the wait time is the unhappiest part. Otherwise, it’s the stops that we most dislike:

wait times

Traffic Light Pain

In 1920, with Model T fatalities escalating, a police officer created the first traffic signal. It had to be operated manually:

wait time first traffic light

This street scene, from Detroit, is circa 1922:

wait times first traffic light Detroit 1922

Autoweek tells us that the basics of traffic lights have changed little during the past 100 years. Our traffic control systems are outdated, using timers, and human input. And, as you know that never quite works out. There might be no cars, no pedestrians and still we wait for green.  Then, to compound our frustration, a red light stops us at every intersection.

Now, real time digitized big data traffic systems exist that respond to current conditions. One traffic pacing company claims to have reduced wait times by 54 percent. They predict that nationwide implementation would erase 93,106 months of delays.

Our Bottom Line: Cost

Whether it’s caused by an elevator or a traffic light, extra travel time has value. As economists, we can say that the cost is what the extra time forces us to sacrifice. It takes us to what we otherwise could be doing.

Please add up (as I have occasionally) the hours you could use elsewhere, were you not delayed by elevators and traffic lights. The cost could be massive.

My sources and more: To ponder further what you’ve probably minimally considered, do take a look at Autoweek,  this paper and this NY Times article on  traffic lights. Then, for more, this paper had the facts on elevator wait times and this one had the pain index. (Our featured image is from Pixabay.)

Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.