More Information and Frequently Asked Questions about the Otis Elevator Modernization Plan

Big changes are now underway to the more than 100 elevators at Willis Tower. EQ Office is committed to providing our tenants best in class technology and service and this elevator modernization is a vital part of our improvements at Willis Tower. To keep all valued tenants informed and to make this process as smooth as possible, we have created the following elevator modernization guidelines for tenant and employee reference.

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Why even change the elevators? What’s wrong with them?

The existing elevators were working as intended, but due to the 45-year age of the equipment, it has become more difficult to maintain them and achieve the level of service Willis Tower tenants and visitors deserve. 

New Technology Helps Reduce Travel Times.

Most new high-rise office buildings are installing elevators with Destination Dispatching systems like Compass™ (the new system installed here). This newer technology allows for smarter elevators which provide more efficient service to tenants.  

With the former system, local elevators would stop on as many floors as there were buttons pressed per trip. The frequent starting and stopping meant elevators wouldn’t spend as much time going full speed and the tenants’ ride times were longer than they needed to be with excessive intermediate stops.

The new Compass™ system groups people going to the same floors together, so the elevator makes fewer stops per trip. This allows the elevators to spend more time running at full speed so you spend less time in the elevator.

What parts of the elevator project have already been completed?

The first step is removing the old buttons and installing a new Destination Dispatching system that batches people going to similar floors together to make ride times shorter.  This has been complete in all banks except for the low rise floors. The full positive effects of Destination Dispatching on travel time won’t be felt until the second step is complete: modernizing 45-year-old components of the elevators (e.g. motors and machine rooms). Once the new “brains” of the Destination Dispatching system AND new elevators are installed on a rolling basis throughout the building, overall travel time will decrease and rides will become smoother.  The third step is installing brand new elevator interiors to round out the elevator experience improvements.

The necessary first step to modernizing the elevators is removing the old buttons and installing the Destination Dispatching system, with new digital touch screens. After Destination Dispatching is installed, there is a “learning” period for the new system to adjust to elevator demand and elevator call behavior in each bank and at different times of day, and that is the period we are in right now. Ultimately, the Destination Dispatching system is so much more efficient and intelligent that when elevators are removed out of service to be modernized, the system will compensate for that missing elevator, maintaining the same level of efficiency and overall travel time.

What’s next?

The next step following Destination Dispatching installation, is modernization of the elevators themselves, including motors and completely new elevator car interiors.  Willis Tower currently has thirteen teams of Otis mechanics working in the building on this project. Each team will take one elevator out of service per elevator bank, one bank at a time.

It will take 4-6 months per elevator to rebuild the elevators with new state of the art electrical and mechanical components.  

As each elevator is completed and put back into service you will notice these improvements:

  • New elevator interiors with large display screens.
  • A smoother ride.
  • Faster, more reliable, and more consistent door operation.
  • More accurate and consistent leveling at floors.
Why do I need to push a button?

The elevator system assigns people to cars based on how many people want to go to each floor. When you push a button, you are assigned a spot on a specific elevator. As a result:

  • The system knows how many elevators it needs to send to each floor.
    • You know which elevator to go to, so you don’t have to keep an eye on all of them while waiting for one to arrive.
    • There will be enough room for you in the elevator.
    • The elevator will give sufficient time to walk from the kiosk to the cab, otherwise it may close the doors sooner since it is not aware of another passenger.
But there is only one stop on the shuttle elevators that travel from the lobby to the 33rd and 66th floors, why should I push a button?

The Compass™ system will assign a car depending on the number of people requesting service. With the prior system, you had to wait to press the button again after the elevator door closed for the system to send another car. By pressing the digital touch screen in the hallway, the system will have a more accurate count of rider demand and send more elevators to meet it.  

Also, by analyzing the passenger activity in the elevator banks via the digital touch screen, the system gets “smarter’ over time to predict behaviors and anticipate needs. The system will learn peak demand times and automatically send more cars during those periods.

Should I press the button many times to get more elevators (especially on the shuttles)?

While this sounds like it may help, it actually may result in the system sending too many cars to that location and compromising overall efficiency. This is true even for the shuttle elevators.

The eventual goal for the shuttle elevators is to allow them to service additional floors on the up and down paths to 2, 33, 34, 66, and 67, but this will only occur once 75% of the shuttle elevator modernization has been completed.

Why are some floors restricted?

Currently, you may see some of the digital touch screens say a floor is restricted during peak hours. These floors are restricted at certain times to allow more people to exit the building efficiently. Initially, when the Compass™ system was installed for the high-rise shuttle elevators, it allowed all potential floor destinations, which compromised the service. Simply put, the system was stopping at the first or second floors too often, resulting in slower travel.

What happens if I don’t push a button?

If you don’t push the button, the system does not know you are there so no elevators will pick you up unless somebody else pushes a button. The elevator system will not know how many people are waiting and may not send enough elevators to pick everyone up in a timely manner.

If you enter an elevator without pushing the button you may end up on an elevator that is not going to your floor or you may be taking someone else’s assigned spot, leaving no room for them even though they pressed the button.

Because Compass™ intelligently assigns elevators to reduce stops, if you get in a car without pushing the button first your ride may take longer than the car you would have been assigned to had you pushed the button.

When you get to your floor the elevator doors are programmed to stay open long enough for everyone who is known to be on the car to get off, and for those assigned to that car to get in. If there are people in the car or in the hall that did not push a button the doors will try to close before everybody has time to transfer.

To help during this period of transition, we’ve stationed people in the lobby to assist everyone with the new routine.

Make sure your floor destination is illuminated on the inside of the elevator door.

We have seen tenants just walk into elevators when the door opens, assuming the elevator will go to the destination of their choice. Simply entering any open car may result in one or more of the issues listed above.

What are the plans for elevator travel between 66/67 and 33/34?

We have programmed additional shuttle elevator cars in the low and high rise elevator banks to travel between floors 33/34 and 66/67. Additional signage on these elevator doors have been posted to help direct tenants and guests traveling between these floors.

The elevator that was doing inter-floor travel between 33/34 and 66/67 was removed from service to begin the elevator modernization process.  The plan is to modernize one elevator shuttle car in each bank.  Each shuttle elevator car will take approximately 5-6 months to modernize.  The cab will receive new interior cab finishes, technology, motors, door closers, cabling, and rollers guides.


How can I get to 34 or 67 faster?

Try beginning your ride on the 2nd floor, by taking the escalators to the 2nd  floor elevator bank near Starbucks. These shuttles are double stacked, so when departing from the 2nd   floor you will be in the top elevator car and you will avoid the transfer between floors 66/67 and 33/34. When leaving, try taking the shuttle to the 2nd  floor and then take the escalator down. If you are a tenant on floors 81 to 102, or floors 50 to 63, this method of transportation will improve your time as a majority of people are not using these methods.

When will overall travel time improve?

The new Compass™ system groups people by similar destination in order to get to floors more efficiently, rather than stopping on every floor. You may get the impression you are waiting longer for an elevator to arrive for, but once it has arrived, it will stop less, resulting in a shorter ride that gets you to your destination faster.

The elevator modernization has just begun with the installation of the new technologies. The new technologies are telling old technologies how to operate, so naturally there are some challenges, which the 13 different Otis teams onsite are addressing as quickly as possible. We appreciate your patience during this transition. 

The next step is to take one elevator per bank out of service, one bank at a time, for modernization of its 45-year-old parts. However, in the event a different elevator requires unexpected service, it could result in two cars in one elevator bank being out of service, causing slower service. When possible, Otis performs repairs after hours so as not to interrupt service during the workday. Despite how carefully Otis schedules maintenance and upgrades, some unexpected issues do occur and sometimes may take several days to address. Again, we appreciate your patience.

As the Destination Dispatching system continues to operate, it will become more and more efficient, resulting in increased performance, especially when paired with the modernization of the elevator components.