The anticipated vacancies in the 316-car garage stem from problems that used to plague the facility, such as long waits to retrieve vehicles, and, in a few cases, even damage to automobiles. But those troubles are over, says Parking Utility Director John Corea.
Employees at the four-story, seven-level automated garage are currently accepting names of residents interested in renting a space for $200 a month. The facility will progressively accept more and more vehicles until it reaches its limit in early November.
"I'm very optimistic and confident that this machine will perform to both the satisfaction of the city and its residents," said Corea, who added that although the Parking Utility is attempting to reach out to all of its former garage customers, many are not returning calls. "We're making every effort to reach out to old customers, but we already expect some to not return."
The facility was designed and had previously been run by Robotic Parking Inc., until continually tense contract negotiations between the company and Hoboken finally fell apart.
The city then invited Israeli-based Unitronics, a Robotics competitor, to run the garage. Unitronics has created similar garages throughout Europe and Israel and has installed its own operating software as well as additional features to the garage since the start of this year, according to Corea.
Although the garage is presently only accepting customers on a monthly basis, beginning next year, Corea plans to open the facility up to transient customers, giving those who work in Hoboken a chance to park during the day, as well as residents who cannot find a spot at night.
According to the parking director, in the past the facility used to remain "80 percent dormant during the day and about 20 percent empty at night."
He attributed the latter to customers finding a spot closer to their house or being out of town.
Corea estimated that the increase in revenue to the city created by offering transient parking would be in the area of $60,000, bringing the total revenue for the garage to well over $1.2 million annually.
If the revamped automated garage proves to be a success, Corea said he would consider pursuing the construction of a second, similar structure in another part of town to alleviate public parking while creating another revenue source for the city.
The garage is special in that it automatically brings cars to a parking space, without drivers entering the facility.
The many alterations and additions
One of the first additions former customers will notice when they pull into the bay area is the installation of an LCD screen that directs the driver how to align the vehicle on the pallet. An electronic banner sign previously gave directions, but, according to Corea, its position had made it difficult for most drivers to see.
He said it was subsequently ignored by some, who would fail to follow its directions and improperly park their vehicle on the pallet, resulting in damage to the car.
Unlike the old system, the current one will not accept a vehicle unless it is aligned properly on the pallet.
Once in, a censor evaluates the vehicle's height and determines what space it should be parked in. Because of its original design, there are two parking space heights in the garage, one of 81 inches, intended for SUVs and jeeps.
The other is 63 inches, which occupies the remaining three floors.
The garage is not designed to contain wide vehicles such as Hummers.
In the past there were no censors installed in the garage, according to Unitronics Technician Yair Goldberg. Goldberg said this led to larger vehicles being placed in compact spots, thus causing damage to the vehicle.
Another precaution installed by Unitronics is a central processing unit (CPU) on each of the machines' moving parts, allowing parking utility attendants and, if necessary, Unitronics technicians, to directly control that specific piece without having to stop other operations in the building. In the past, this was a common cause of delays in retrieving cars, added Goldberg.
Trip to Israel
As part of their contract with Unitronics, Corea, as well as city employees Patrick Riccardi and James Inhulsen, will be leaving for Tel Aviv, Israel Sunday Oct. 14, for a five-day, 100-hour training session, in which Unitronics staff will instruct them how to properly troubleshoot and fix mechanical problems that could arise. The Hobokenites will subsequently become certified to operate the system.
If in the future city employees have questions that require assistance from Israel, machinery will be monitored by Tel Aviv technicians on a 24-7 basis, officials said. If necessary, they can log into the Hoboken garage's computer, where they can either instruct the parking utility employees as to what the problem is and how to fix it or correct it themselves from halfway around the world.
"We can remotely control every element," said Goldberg. "If there is any problem, no matter how small, we can zoom in on it and fix it."
One of the ways they are able to accomplish this feat is through the installation of nine cameras. In addition to monitoring the many working parts of the machine, the cameras can zoom in on the smallest of objects so that a problem can be properly diagnosed.
Goldberg said that by November the retrieval time for a car will be between two and three minutes, with an additional minute added for each customer waiting if several should come at once.
One returning garage customer, Paul Kolodner, who was at the facility retrieving his car Monday morning, said that since he began using the facility again, he has experienced two longer waits.
He said he had to wait almost 17 minutes the first two times he came to get his car last week. However, the last three retrievals took him only the two minutes.
The reason for the initial delays, according to the Unitronics Tech, could have been due to technicians updating or testing software at the time Kolodner arrived.
There are currently a little over 100 vehicles parking at the garage. According to Corea, 95 percent of the facility's former customers came from within a five-block radius of the garage, which he expects will occur again.
Meanwhile, the company that designed the garage's software, Robotic Parking, is still involved in a lawsuit against the city. Both the city and Robotic had blamed each other for the problems that previously existed at the garage. The relationship didn't improve when Hoboken invited Unitronics in to keep the garage running. This led to a series of lawsuits in which Robotic sued both the city and Unitronics for allegedly violating their patents, because Unitronics was given access to the site while Robotic software was still installed.
Robotics settled its lawsuit against Unitronics, but it is still pursuing one against the city. Hoboken, in turn, is pursuing its own lawsuit against Robotic, for an alleged breech of contract according to Corporation Counsel Steven Kleinman.
Michael Mullins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org