How to Make Lifts Better with Behavioural Economics


There is one single thing, I really don’t like with the lifts is waiting for them. You have no clue when they will arrive? Now? Today or tomorrow? 

It has been more than one hundred years, lift technology helped us to build skyscrapers that would have been entirely imaginable before its invention. “Vertical cities” have become very attractive places to live, resulting in an increase in this style of accommodation in many cities around the world.

It is clear that, since its original creation, lift technology has improved considerably. If you wish, you can now have a lift in your building that can vertically travel up to 35 km/h (22 mph), with a pressurised cabin. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai has already implemented this form of lift technology.

Whilst it may be quick once we are in the lift, we still have to wait for a lift to arrive and, until teleportation is available, that is unlikely to change. Unfortunately, the event of waiting for a lift is quite annoying, even if the lift is travelling at 35 km/h! This is a key factor that has been overlooked by all of the innovations in lift technology; and one thing was missed out, uncertainty aversion.

Ambiguity aversion, or uncertainty aversion, is the tendency to favour the known over the unknown, including known risks over unknown risks. For example, when choosing between two bets, we are more likely to choose the bet for which we know the odds, even if the odds are poor, than the one for which we don’t know the odds.

Whilst waiting for a lift, our brain is not happy with the situation. There is no indication of when the lift will arrive. 30 seconds? 5 minutes? Never? Sadly, despite all the advancements to make lifts faster and safer, there is no a helpful display that shows the expected time of arrival. There is an existing solution, some lifts indicate what floor the cabin is, and you may guess when it will arrive. However, it is not adequate for our skyscraper life!


It would be relatively easy to offer people waiting such information by adding the lift’s expected time at each floor. This simple calculation will vastly improve customer experience. Just imagine, you are the airport and your flight is delayed. Which one sounds better, delayed by 30 minutes or just, delayed? Delayed by 30 minutes removes uncertainty and makes everything much easier for our brain to cope with. We know how much time we have, so maybe we can have a quick sneak off to buy something. If the screens only show “delayed”, our brain can’t make a decision. Instead, it is thinking: “If I go to buy a water, the gate might open, and I will miss my plane” and we will be checking the screens forever.

The story is the same in the case of waiting for a lift. Whilst you know it is not likely to be a very long waiting time, during peak hours, lift waiting can be a nightmare - both inside the carriage and outside. By calculating estimated time and showing the passengers inside the cabin and people waiting outside how long waiting time is, it would improve people’s overall experience with lifts.

This offers yet another example of how behavioural economics can solve fundamental problems in life.