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Bill 109, What goes up, must go down

There was lot of buzz in the media associated with the introduction of Bill 109, an Act to amend the Building Code Act and protect consumers in respect to elevators and mechanics. The Bill was introduced by Mr. H. Dong as part of a private member bill in the Ontario legislature. The first reading of the Bill was done on March 22, 2017.

The Bill is very simple and overreaching. As a Consulting Engineer working in the elevator industry for over 27 years, I can appreciate the frustration and good intention this sophomoric Bill wishes to achieve, but I am not sure if the Bill is going to be effective.


Vague on Capacity

First, let’s start with the first explanatory note: “Person who applies for a permit to construct a building with seven or more stories must show that building will have enough elevator capacity.” I am not sure what Mr. Dong is trying to achieve here.

I am assuming 60 feet was used because the building would then be considered a high-rise structure. Generally, a high-rise structure is considered to be one that extends higher than the maximum reach of available firefighting equipment. In absolute numbers, this has been set variously between 75 feet (23 meters) and 100 feet (30 meters), or about seven to 10 stories (depending on the slab-to-slab distance between floors).

If the intent is to make sure that we have more than one elevator, then the Bill should state that redundancy is needed. “You shall not supply less than two elevators in buildings higher than 60 feet (20 meters).” This would achieve a solid (albeit very expensive) solution that would achieve the intended result.

People may ask what’s wrong with the statement “…must show that the building will have enough elevator capacity?” Well, there is plenty wrong. The definition of enough capacity does not speak to the industry requirement for wait time or capacity. The lack of standards or definition for “Capacity” makes the whole passage meaningless and unenforceable. On the upside, more money for engineers and consultants, but at additional cost to building owners and developers.


Unrealistic Timelines

The second item on the Bill is “elevator maintenance contracts are subject to the protections under the Consumer Protection Act, 2002.” I am not sure what weight the Consumer Protection Act provides consumers but I can tell you the elevator industry is a very complex industry that’s heavily regulated as it is. There are many rules and requirements that would prevent alternative solutions and that might hinder competitive forces. Therefore, I would not be surprised to see an amendment in the Consumer Protection Act to exempt elevator service from it. But since there is no exemption, there is a presumption that the current Act applies to the elevator industry. So why isn’t it used? Perhaps we lacked the third note: “an elevator that breaks down must be repaired within 14 days for most buildings, seven days for long-term care homes and retirement homes, unless the regulations provide otherwise.”

The third note is not only impossible to implement in many cases, it completely ignores the fact that in many cases the owner of the elevator might not have approved the work, is shopping for better pricing, or is waiting for the elevator contractor to source parts so that they can quote the repair. I can give numerous examples of how a repair cannot occur in the required time frame, here are just a few:

  • A cylinder failed a leak test: The elevator is removed from service and after a few days to a week of testing and verifications, the cylinder is condemned. Material lead time is typically 4-6 weeks or longer, depending on the size of the cylinder and if the supplier is closed during the summer break in Quebec. The installation time is two weeks baring any critical failure of the buried caisson. Total repair time is anywhere between six to 10 weeks.
  • Armature failure: The armature of a gearless motor shorts out and fails. The armature needs to be removed if it cannot be repaired on site. Depending on the repair size and access/egress, the work can take anywhere between three to five months to complete.
  • Armature bearing failure damages the raceway: This repair can occur on site at times. The work is very specialized and would require two months to complete on average.
  • A motor for an MRL elevator failed: The material ordering plus removal of the old motor and installation of the new one will take six weeks to install.
  • Obsolete part is damaged: The new part may have to be modified or the old part repaired. Work of this nature can take three weeks to complete.

The point is, setting an arbitrary date and time is irresponsible and sets an expectation that cannot be met.

While I can understand the intention behind this bill, the facts I’ve stated above make the amendments nearly useless in the field.

I am of the professional opinion that for Bill 109 to succeed, the following must be considered and attempted:

  • Allow competition: Let the market forces correct the behaviour of contractors and facilitate the open market system. With elevator controllers and equipment being proprietary, competition cannot perform maintenance with ease on competitor’s equipment. Therefore, if you install your elevator equipment, you tend to maintain it for a long period of time (uninterrupted or threatened by competition because the competition does not have access to parts, training, manuals, etc.).
  • Non-Proprietary Equipment: Legislate that all elevator controls installed in Ontario must be supplied with training manuals, parts manual, electrical schematics, adjusting manual and maintenance tools.
  • Open Access to Parts: Prevent predatory behaviour with respect to parts pricing. Dictate that the price of the part cannot exceed the cost of the manufacturing plus 20%. Prevent parts hoarding by preventing contractors from holding back or withholding parts for sale. All parts should be available immediately for sale, otherwise a tax shall be levied against the Original Equipment Manufacture (OEM).
  • Open Training and Support: Assistance to others shall be provided by the OEM on demand and at market pricing. All control OEMs shall provide training to those seeking knowledge within seven days of such requests.
  • All maintenance contracts shall be all inclusive and at no additional cost: There is a tendency currently in the marketplace to omit parts like ropes, gears and bearings from the contract without the knowledge of the client. When the part becomes worn, the owner of the elevator is levied with unexpected and unscheduled costs, which can be significant and punishing. Therefore exclusion should not be permitted. If you cannot get anyone to maintain your elevator then it is time to modernize, and what better way to do it than to let a free market determine this?
  • Define Obsolete: Many unscrupulous contractors claim that a part is obsolete so they can charge elevator owners for replacement parts. While the part can be technically obsolete (i.e. exact part is no longer available) replacement parts are available and are usually a direct replacement (although they may need a simple wiring change). But the point is this: the price of the old part is the same as the new part. Obsolescence should be defined as: parts which are no longer available and cannot be replaced with a similar part available or supplied by industry vendors. The only available option is to upgrade the old part with a new and superior product at a significant cost and labour expenditure (more than two additional hours above the original labour).
  • Movement of labour: Currently the unionized labour in Ontario is the only way to employ mechanics for union companies. While there are few independent and non-union companies, most of the manpower is done through the International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC). You pick from a pool of available persons (on the bench) and unless the pool is vacant, you cannot hire others. So if you need a certain talent that can fix a certain type of elevator, you cannot just hire them away unless their seniority in the industry is greater than those on the bench, which is not always easy. While the legislation should respect the union/company’s collective bargaining, there should be a special provision that facilitates the movement of labour.
  • Set minimum hourly requirements: The elevator contractor should be pricing the maintenance on the basis of hours to spend on the site and parts needed to keep the elevator well-maintained. Setting a basic hourly requirement would prevent companies from bidding on jobs to increase their portfolio size without intending on doing the work.
  • Punish the offenders: The punishment for failing to meet the requirements of the Bill should be significant to the offending contractor. The punishment should include loss of business license and hefty fines for repeat offenders.
  • Limit Acquisitions: To foster a vibrant market place, limit acquisitions of the independent companies to sick and unhealthy companies so that mergers and acquisitions can only be performed subject to review by the Finance Minister or the Ministry of Government and Consumers Services.
  • Enable the Technical Standards and Safety Authority to investigate claims of abuse and fraud and allow them to issue fines and notice of defaults, including charges to suspend licenses.

As you can see there are solutions to the issue of poor elevator service, but it would require political capital to enforce and implement. As I have note in this article, a simple Bill like the one being proposed will not work because it does not address the heart of the issue in the industry.

by Ray Eleid, P.Eng. - Back to list

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