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The elevator ride, once a footnote to the commute, takes center stage. - Press "Enter" to skip to content

The elevator ride, once a footnote to the commute, takes center stage.

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More than 150 years since the first elevator was installed in Manhattan, its roughly 65,000 descendants in New York City today will largely determine whether workers can get back to their desks.

The vertical transportation industry, as it is known, has spent months engineering new ways to essentially circumvent the limitations of a box designed to move as many people up and down as possible throughout the day.

The ride up and down has essentially gone unchanged for generations; sometimes crowded, sometimes awkward, sometimes serendipitous, a little face time with the boss — all among the countless and obligatory elevator scenes that could appear in any New York City movie.

Social-distancing rules in elevators will reshape the workday, dictating when employees must arrive and when they can leave, and how long those journeys will take. An elevator ride will, at least in the short term, factor in a worker’s commute, like traffic or subway delays.

And as buildings are planning around logjams, elevator companies have developed a variety of gadgets so that riders don’t have to touch anything with their hands.

A firm in Queens has developed the button that can be pressed when a rider points at it. Another offers Toe-to-Go, with pedals on the ground instead of buttons. There are gesture-controlled systems that are triggered with a wave of the hand, voice-activated systems and, by way of a Sacramento-based company, the hologram of buttons.

Taken one by one, the devices can seem cosmetic, as science has shown the virus is generally spread through droplets in the air. But the sheer amount of hand sanitizer offered at nearly every storefront in the city suggests a lingering wariness for touching the same surface as thousands of strangers.


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