Corea added that there have been "at least 50 times" in the last two months that the garage was closed for 15 to 20 minutes while workers tried to fix the one-of-a-kind automated system. The system is run by Robotic Parking, Inc., based out of Florida. The city pays that company $17,000 per month by contract.
Corea complained that "around a dozen times," the garage was closed for an hour or more, with the longest closure being around six hours. This could cause an emergency situation for someone needing their car, but it also forces traffic to back up on Garden Street.
Gerhard Haag, the founder and president at Robotic, said last week that he understands that there have been problems as of late, but said those delays stem from the city's failure to adequately staff the facility.
According to Haag, the HPU has a contractual obligation to provide two "operators" for the garage. He added that until August, Robotic had to provide some of its own operators, but had to transfer one to a different garage. Haag said that the garage's problems coincide with the transferring of the extra Robotic employee, and if the HPU provided the proper staffing, many of the recent delays might not have occurred.
Corea said that the Hoboken Parking Utility has had to pay for taxis or rental cars so garage users could get to work.
"When there is a closure, we do everything we can to accommodate our patrons," Corea said. Last week, Corea posted a letter for all of the garage's patrons by each of the cars' bays. "It's quite unfortunate that you have had to experience many unacceptable delays, in both storing and the retrieving of your vehicles, and the HPU deeply apologizes," Corea said in the letter. "As you know, the Hoboken Parking Utility does not manage the actual operations at the 916 Garage, but we are trying very hard to solve the problems."
The letter added that if the patrons decide to keep using the garage, they will "have to accept the fact that there may be many future delays."
Corea has also offered to move anyone who wants out of the automated garage into one of the city's other municipal garages.
Corea said about two dozen people have left the garage because of the recent problems. In his letter to garage customers, Corea was critical of Robotic.
"At the present time, the HPU is not satisfied with their performance at this facility," Corea said. "Due to contractual issues, we cannot immediately remedy the situation. Our attorneys, the City Council, a parking consultant, and myself, are addressing the issues and possible solutions."
He added that there is meeting scheduled with the council's Parking and Transportation Subcommittee this coming week to directly address the problems at 916 Garden St.
Problems not new
Controversy at 916 Garden St. certainly isn't new. The garage has been a major headache for city officials nearly from the start. Officials have said that the project, which was approved in the late '90s, was delivered years late and millions of dollars over budget.
Political factions, agencies, residents, and various garage contractors blamed each other for three years of delays in the garage. It reached the point where Lumbermen's Mutual Casualty Company of Princeton, which held the $6.3 million bond for the garage, had to take over construction. In October of 2002, the garage opened at a reduced capacity, but lawsuits and investigations continued. In January of 2004, after five years of legal rancor, a settlement with a Robotic allowed the city to finally assume control of the automated garage.
In June 2002, Mayor David Roberts, frustrated with the lack of progress at the 324-car garage, announced that he was launching an independent investigation. In February of 2003, the state's attorney general ordered the city to produce numerous documents related to the garage and its construction.
The investigation has been quiet since then.
Corea said he hopes the problems with the garage will be fixed soon.
"My son tells me we should get an apartment across the street, because it seems like I spend more time here than at home," he said.