Students, breakdowns halt escalators

By Andrew Shull

Stand-up comedian Mitch Hedberg said during one of his shows that escalators can never break —… Stand-up comedian Mitch Hedberg said during one of his shows that escalators can never break — they can only become stairs.

Repairmen should hang a sign that reads, “Sorry for the convenience,” he said.

If Hedberg were still alive, he probably would not receive many laughs after telling that joke in front of out-of-breath students on the second floor of the Petersen Events Center who’ve just climbed a broken escalator.

Though students notice that escalators around campus are often temporarily rendered stairs, Russ Kinsey, Pitt’s senior manager of work control for Facilities Management, said often the escalator users are at fault.

Kinsey, who is in charge of overseeing the maintenance of the escalators and elevators on campus, said that in most cases, stationary escalators aren’t broken, but rather switched off by students, though he could not provide an exact number of how many escalators actually break rather than get shut off manually

“Honestly, we do have students who like to push buttons,” he said.

Escalators can easily be switched off by pressing the red emergency stop button at the bottom of each escalator; however, Kinsey said he thinks the button is often pressed in situations that don’t constitute emergencies.

“The majority of the time it’s not a mechanical issue,” he said, commenting on the reason why escalators around campus are frequently out of service.

Charlie Sigaud, a freshman who lives in Sutherland Hall, said he notices an escalator turned off at the Petersen Events Center “more than once a week.”

After making the trek up the first escalator that was turned off, a slightly winded Sigaud said that while the unnecessary climb certainly wouldn’t ruin his day, “it annoys me as much as something like this can.”

When told that the escalators are often switched off by students, Sigaud was similarly displeased.

“There’s no reason to do that. How old are you?” he said.

If issues with the escalators that require more than just a flip of a switch do arise, the University has standing maintenance contracts with companies that will fix the escalators.

Kinsey compared those repairs to the kinds that cars need.

“It’s hit or miss. It could be as simple as going and turning it back on to ordering a special-order part,” he said.

The University only has to pay extra for repairs in cases such as vandalism.

Conceptually, escalators are fairly simple: They work by moving steps on a continuous belt. But the system requires both electrical and mechanical components that can break down. In those cases, Kinsey said there will usually be a sign indicating that the escalator is under repair.

Otherwise, the escalators are shut off either to save energy in off hours when the buildings are locked up or because somebody decided to hit the emergency stop button.

For students used to the convenience of a ride upstairs, that kind of behavior can be an annoyance.

John Meharey, a sophomore who goes to the gym at the Petersen Events Center five times a week, said that he would probably say “something profane,” to the person responsible for turning off the escalators, which he estimated to be a weekly occurrence.

But Meharey sees a silver lining around the dark cloud of a stationary escalator. He said that every time he needs to walk up a broken escalator, he is reminded of Hedberg’s joke, which often elicits a laugh.

Other students are not phased by the extra exercise of the ordeal.

Maria Serafini, who had to walk up an escalator in the Pete for the first time this semester on Monday, said she wasn’t bothered by it.

“It still gets you up,” she said. “It kind of sucks when you walk up the hill, and then you’re like, ‘Sh*t.’ But it’s not a big deal.”