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Elevator problems and solutions focus of new Ontario-mandated research

Ontario orders research on elevator issues

TORONTO — Residential elevator reliability will be the focus of potentially groundbreaking research as the Ontario government tries to come to grips with what some have called a worsening crisis.

The province, which recently promised legislation to deal with the situation, is hoping to get at the causes of elevator outages or otherwise poor service and, most importantly, to find the best solutions.

"The availability of elevators in multi-storey residential buildings is a growing concern," the government said in an email Thursday. "The underlying causes of this problem appear to be systemic."

As a result, the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services has ordered the provincial safety agency to commission the needed research. The Technical Standards and Safety Authority — TSSA — is now calling for bids to do the research and report on potential solutions by mid-October.

"Ontario is currently experiencing one of the largest construction booms in residential properties in North America (and) a rapid growth in the number of elevators," the request for proposals states.

"Corresponding with this vertical growth in urban housing has been an increase in media and consumer focus on the state of elevator availability due to the devices taking too long to arrive, be repaired, or being completely out of service."

Contract requirements include coming up with ways of assessing and measuring elevator availability in residential buildings as well as in retirement and care facilities. Researchers must find out how bad the problem is, the causes, and report on legislative and non-legislative steps municipal, provincial or federal entities should take to deal with the issue.

Factors driving availability are a "diverse and complex set of technical, market and consumer-protection issues," the document states. Those factors include "under-elevatored" buildings, owner financial limitations, and the motivation of contractors and owners.

The winning bidder, whose research must be fronted by someone widely viewed as impartial, competent and credible, will have to consult widely and investigate what, if anything, other jurisdictions such as New York, London or Singapore have done to address the problems.

An ongoing investigation by The Canadian Press has found a dramatic increase in elevator-reliability issues across the country over the past decade, with firefighters receiving thousands of calls every year to free people trapped in both old and new elevators. People with mobility issues have also been finding themselves stuck in even low-rise buildings by elevator outages that last weeks or even months, while others are getting hurt by malfunctioning devices.

Analysts have tended to blame the dismal situation on a tight-knit industry dominated by a handful of mega multinationals with little incentive to improve matters.

The news articles and constituent complaints prompted Liberal backbencher Han Dong to introduce a well-received bill in the Ontario legislature last month that would set time limits for elevator repairs and force developers to conduct elevator-traffic studies as part of the permitting process. Finance Minister Charles Sousa has since promised reliability legislation.

"This is really an effort to establish a fact basis so we can engage in rational policy making," Wilson Lee, with the safety authority, said of the planned research. "You want the solutions to target the specific problem."

Rob Isabelle, an engineer and veteran elevator consultant, said it makes sense to gather solid data as Dong's bill winds its way through the legislature. Isabelle also said he was unaware of other jurisdictions that have already come to grips with elevator availability.

Dong, who was unaware of the TSSA's request for proposal, said Thursday he welcomed the initiative, especially if it leads to concrete solutions.

"The premier is sending out a very clear message that the elevator is an essential part of housing," Dong said.

The TSSA aims to award the research contract by June 16.

In recent months in Ontario, elevator giant ThyssenKrupp was fined $375,000 after a mishap that left a man with a serious leg injury, while Schindler was fined $80,000 over an unsafe elevator. Schindler is also the target of a lawsuit by a retiree, who says he hurt himself at his downtown Toronto condo when he tumbled out of an elevator that stopped more than 25 centimetres above floor level.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

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