Automated Parking Garage Debacle continues
Million dollar ribbon-cutting planned Jan. 24
Most ribbon-cuttings in town are really boring, and this one will probably be no different (unless dancing girls are there), but the Mayor and probably a gang of city officials will be on hand January 24th at 9:30pm for political announcements proclaiming admirable achievements, and other sugar-coated fluff. Want the whole story? Read the entire history plus the over 200 user comments after the jump.
But in related robot news, some idiots are wondering why there’s a waiting list when the garage isn’t full yet. Well, if you even lived in Hoboken, you’d probably know that it’s because they’re first giving the opportunity for previous customers of the garage to sign up again. The “other” waiting list is for new customers, who will come next (if there are any openings left.)
I’m probably going to renew mine again. Anyone want it?
Many updates go way back before most people even knew what a blog was. Comments are entertaining!
A little note from Mark, a Hoboken411 reader. Here’s the PDF of the packet he mentions.
I popped my head in today to ask how far along the Unitronics folks were with the “project.” After a few stumbling awkward attempts at English, I simply mimicked driving a car into their garage and getting out of my imaginary car. Ahh! That is when one of the Israeli gentlemen handed me this 3-page packet of info which I can share with you.
What was supposed to take eight days is now pushing 90. The Hoboken Actual Time Translator (H.A.T.T.) went into a state of shock, and needs to be re-programmed. Maybe we should just level that dump and use robots to cart us around without cars. We have nowhere to put them anyway!
Story from NJ.com. Read the whole history below.
Still waiting for robots in Hoboken
Hoboken’s “robot garage” on Garden Street likely won’t reopen by the end of the month, city officials have told The Jersey Journal.
In December, the Hoboken Parking Authority said the garage would be reopened and ready to go by the end of March. Now, however, the city is hoping for April.
Unitronics — the company handling the installation of new equipment and software at the automated parking garage — says at least some of the garage should be ready to open by next month, but it may take a couple more months after that until the whole garage is open.
The garage opened in 2002, after delays and cost overruns, as the first-in-the-nation automated parking garage. Through a series of platforms and pulleys, the garage would automatically park a car precisely in a spot, then retrieve it when the customer returned. There were a few kinks in the system — including cars that were trapped when the system couldn’t retrieve them, and a few cars that were dropped by the machinery.
Last year, the original builder and operator of the garage — Robotics Parking — was booted out by the city after it asked to increase its monthly operating fee from $23,250 to $27,900. A court ordered, however, that Robotics Parking’s equipment and software couldn’t be operated by another company, so Unitronics was contracted in December for $2 million in December to replace the existing equipment and write new software to operate it.
This month, Popular Mechanics wrote about a similar garage in New York City.
A few readers already pointed this NYC automated parking garage out, which is opening later this week:
So let’s have some fun with this instead. The Hoboken version of the “Match Game”. Fill in the blank:
“The NYC garage will work fine,
but the Hoboken garage
was IS a mess because: ____________”
Click play to hear the game show theme music to get you in the mood.[audio:think1.mp3]
The garage is still closed. The estimated date given now is “the end of January”. Contributing to this delay again were some blunders last week regarding electrical work being done without permits. They were issued a stop work order while they obtained necessary paperwork.
From what the HPU told us, the first “wave” of customers (the ones that stuck through the problems) will be let back in then. I recall the number being something like 150 cars or so. This will represent one operating “floor”. The limited pallet system they will use while the rest of the garage is being worked on will cause longer than usual delays to retrieve your car.
The rest of the work is expected to be completed a few months later. There is almost no point in publishing any dates whatsoever regarding this project. It’ll open when it opens.
Here’s a little tidbit to tide us over while the garage gets retrofitted.
Below is a link to the first part of Unitronics’ 15-part proposal they submitted to the city. Kind of summarizes the costs (the other 14 sections are very lengthy.) One thing to note in this proposal is the ongoing support charges. I’m still trying to compare the costs versus the old Robotic agreement. Maybe some of you can help.
Robotic originally charged $23,500 per month for support. I’m not sure if this included the on-site personnel or not. The Unitronics proposal breaks it down multiple ways. $9500 per month for one on-site operations person (8hrs a day, 5 days a week.) Then they list various “on call” emergency repairs options (1 hour, 5 hour, and 24 hour response times) at $24,500, $23,500 and $4100 per month respectively. I believe this would be on top of the $9500. So to have 1 hour response support would cost $34,000 per month (or $126,000 more per year.) Please correct if my assumptions are wrong.
Here’s the link to the PDF, and below is their promotional video. Note that the video of the robotic boxes and hard to understand narration is quite painful to watch. I had to take a Klonopin afterward.
We mentioned on the 11th that it would be at least eight days. The least part was correct. The Hoboken Actual Time Translator (HATT) would have been handy once again. It turns out that it won’t be opening until the first week of the new year. Here’s what we learned today. And it’s not all that bad, actually.
The reason for the delay is that the shipment of high-powered lasers were held up in Customs. Apparently the address was not to the garage, and that raised suspicions, which is good that Homeland Security is keeping an eye on things.
Here’s some other updates:
- They’ve eliminated that “card swipe” process. Now it will be a manually entered account number + pin. No more lost or defective keys.
- The people that didn’t obtain “car tags” to temporarily allow parking in other facilities, along with the free shuttles will be receiving a pro-rated discount for the next month. I feel that is fair, since December was paid in full. It’d be even nicer if we got a few free months of service considering the countless headaches and inconveniences in the past, but we’ll take what we can get.
- There will be cost increases. John Correa indicated that it will only be for new customers. Existing customers will pay the old amount.
- They’re considering opening a portion of the garage for a la carte customers who can pay via credit card swipe by the hour or day.
- Other improvements, including clearer signals outside each entrance to help eliminate confusion.
The HPU should be sending out an announcement later this week.
As mentioned from the last council meeting, the $1.9 million dollar contract was awarded and the garage will be shut down for at least 8 days starting one week from today. All cars must be out by this Sunday. According to the memo, Hoboken has a new street in town.
Believe it or not, I’ve noticed it has been working relatively smoothly since Unitronics left! Lo Behold! But now the city may award a $1.9 million dollar contract to them to “fix it”. I have my doubts. And why is it that every time someone submits an RFP, only one “sole” company meets the requirements? Seems like the bids are fixed too.
City Council to vote on automated garage retrofit
Read all the rest after the jump:
— Will Improve Safety, Efficiency and Quality of Life —
HOBOKEN, NJ, November 30th, 2006 — The Hoboken City Council, on Wednesday, December 6th, will be asked to vote on a resolution to retrofit and permanently fix ongoing problems at the 316-space automated garage at 916 Garden Street.
The Council will vote on a $1.9 million contract award to Quincy, MA-based Unitronics, Inc. to replace and fix the mechanical, electrical and software components which have plagued the automated facility since its opening to customers nearly three years ago.
“This measure will significantly decrease monthly maintenance fees, while significantly increasing safety, efficiency and revenues,” said Mayor David Roberts. “Our goal is to provide a fully operational garage to serve our citizens and to serve as a major element in our quality of life campaign.
Rigorous specifications for the retrofit were developed through the efforts of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, Parking Consultant Leonard Bier, Mayor Roberts Business Administrator Richard England Parking Utility Director John Corea, Fifth Ward Councilman Michael T. Cricco, among others. This past July, the Council authorized a public Request For Qualifications (RFQ) with a due date of November 20th.
“Unitronics submitted the sole bid which met all the qualifications that will result in a fully functional garage with new software and equipment that will be totally owned and operated by the City,” said Director Corea.
Pending Council approval, the plan would call for the closure of the garage from December 15th to December 20th for the installation of temporary software to allow for a reopening while permanent repairs are made. The project is to be completed at the end of March, 2007.
The Council resolutions mandates at Unitronics not to be paid until three months after completion, a measure to ensure total reliability of integrity, operations and reliability.
“This ultimately will reduce our monthly obligations for repairs and allow us to accommodate more customers through a swift turnaround by the installation of a fully reliable elevator system that includes an equally reliable back-up elevator for added insurance,” said Director Corea.
I just pulled into the garage a little while ago, and it miraculously worked. Although the girl that had pulled in at the same time as me had indicated that an hour earlier it wasn’t working. She was understandably livid.
The notice below just went up a few days ago (not on 10/6 as it indicates). As a patron of the garage, I no longer have the energy to get angry or frustrated. I’m tapped out.
However, it sure would be nice if the city somehow made some other concessions to the customers who have been inconvenienced. Sure, parking at other garages or lots much further south is a start (albeit crappy), but what about some monetary compensation for the pain and suffering? Like 6 or more free months parking there, or a refund for the countless times scores of people could not utilize it? I only use the garage as a LAST RESORT these days. I’d love a check for $1200, that’d make the anticipated future problems easier to accept. But I doubt that, since I’m STILL waiting for the $1000 refund they owe me for the damage caused to my previous vehicle back in MARCH!
Another idea is to allow parking at ANY parking garage in the city, public or private. I’m sure an arrangement can be made with the operators of those garages. But will our public representatives go out on a limb for us? Doubtful.
A performance guarantee would be nice too. For instance, if Hoboken411 isn’t up for 99.9% of the time each month (down for more than 45 minutes), the hosting company refunds the full monthly fee. But I don’t think the city would even offer a “50% uptime guarantee”; that’d be too generous.
At yesterday’s Council Meeting:
The issues at this garage are going to get worse before they get better, thanks to the way the City has handled itself in the battle with Robotics Parking, which designed the software that runs the garage. There is a growing possibility that the garage may have to be shut down for a significant period of time.
When the city came to a negotiated agreement to part ways with Robotics, both sides seemed pleased. The city would have the right to use Robotics software for a fee, Robotics would no longer operate the garage, and the city would put out a “request for proposals” from other potential operators of the garage, who would have to come up with their own software to run the garage.
Then Parking Utility Chief John Corea brought in an Israeli company called Unitronics to run the garage in place of Robotics, but with Robotics software. This set off red flags with Robotics — always concerned the Parking Utility would help someone steal their intellectual property. Robotics then went back to court with the city.
To continute reading more and see all comments:
At the Caucus, an attorney for Florio and Kenny who has been representing the city against Robotics put the Council on notice that things were not going well in court. The attorney said the Judge is being asked to consider a restraining order on the city that would severely restrict the city’s ability to not only operate the garage, but to actually have someone else come in and retrofit the garage to work without Robotics software. The Judge ruled Hoboken VIOLATED their software agreement with Robotics when they brought Unitronics in to operate the garage with Robotics software. The Judge then ORDERED the city to BAR UNITRONICS FROM OPERATING THE GARAGE by November 10th. The attorney for the city indicated the longer Unitronics was involved, the worse it would be for the city.
If Unitronics is not gone by November 10th, the Judge will ORDER THE 916 GARDEN GARAGE CLOSED, with everyone still sticking it out there losing their space at the facility.
John Corea said the city will run the garage with Robotics software on their own to the best of their ability (which we all know from experience has not been impressive) and that the city will then have to hire mechanics to maintain the mechanical portion of the system. Though they didn’t want to say it, it seemed likely the garage would probably run on a far less efficient manual basis until such time a whole new software system can be devised by a new company. Assuming that could be done, it would likely come at significant expense and with the jeopardy that Robotics could sue at any time to stop the work.
Proposals from companies who want to develop new software for the garage are due back November 20th. The current contract for the city to operate the garage with Robotics software expires December 31st, and the city’s lawyer said the judge may rule that because of the city’s bad faith, the city does not have the right to renew the Robotics Software agreement for 2007. That would mean the computers get yanked, and people who park at 916 Garden are out of luck on New Years Eve (or even sooner, if the judge believes Unitronics has taken Robotics codes.)
Before the judge rules on the city’s right to renew the software, he wants a full accounting of the history of the City’s relationship with Robotics. Of course, if you’ve followed Hoboken411’s coverage of the issue and read the Mister Snitch report on the history, you know the judge is not likely to look fondly on the city’s actions.
In response to this latest debacle, 6th Ward Councilman Nino Giacchi responded by asking “When does the For Sale sign go up?” on the 916 Garden Garage. Disgusted members of the public — some of whom have been calling for the sale of this garage for years — grunted in agreement.
The bottom line: The Judge says Unitronics must go, and the City may be forced to close the Garage. At best, the problems we’ve seen with the garage are only going to get worse before they get better, if ever. Even if the city can convince the judge not to close the garage altogether, it will be several months of problems before any improvement in service can even be attempted.
This erector set of a parking garage has been down since Wednesday, and is still not fully working due to “unforeseen equipment failure”. UNFORESEEN? I saw this coming a mile away the minute Robotic left.
They cannot even get the date right on the memo.
They just cannot get their shit together here. I pulled in late last night and the unapologetic and rude “Unitronics” guy rushed out and said “they’re working on it and there’s nothing they can do”. As of 4pm today, it’s still not working. This place is a dump. Those chimps from the CareerBuilder.com commercials would do a better job.
Read the rest of the recent troubles here.
8/13/06 2:00am: As expected, there is a traffic jam outside the automated garage at this time because no one can get their car inside. Now police presence is required to clean the mess up.
The garage had been down since 4pm Saturday, and no one was there to attend to it.
Additionally, HPU big-wig John Corea was inaccessible.
In other words, they have no contingency plan, and the tenants of the garage suffer again. Bring back Robotic!!!
I just don’t understand what we’re paying “Unitronics” for? NO ONE IS THERE!! One bay is open, and cars are just sitting there.
They left a crappy sribbled note on the door.
8/8/06: The “technology” beneath this debacle has caused Wired News to run a story about it: Giant Robot imprisons parked cars.
As well as getting huge traffic on Slashdot: Hoboken, NJ vs. Giant Parking Robot.
8/4/06: So there’s a “deal”. I guess this whole thing was personal, because now Hoboken is paying $1000 more per month in total than Robotics originally wanted. But the HPU is happy because their nemesis is now gone. See comments section for Journal Article.
More updates. See comments section for latest article from 7/29/2006 Journal.
This story is a disgrace to Hoboken and those running it.
The 916 Garden parking garage, which has removed 314 cars from the crowded streets of central Hoboken is in jeopardy of shutting down on August 1st.
The dispute between the city and Robotic Parking is nauseating. It’s a pathetic and childish display of how NOT to handle a business or political disagreement.
First of all, to the Hoboken Parking Utility, how DARE you disrespect the over 300 Hoboken residents who PAY FOR and RELY on that garage on a daily basis? It is your responsibility to ensure that this garage stay operational while you work out your (PERSONAL) issues with Robotic Parking.
Secondly, it seems like this whole dispute is over $4500 per month. Robotic Parking has indicated (and we believe fairly) that to maintain their operating costs and overhead, they need a meager increase in the monthly maintence fees. This is fair considering the past issues with the garage and will not make ANY significant impact in the City’s parking revenue.
If the City was smart, they’d allow this increase for one year while Robotic can perhaps find a way to bring those monthly costs back down to the original amount. But again, this really isn’t about the money, but a bitter personal battle that leaves only one victim, the residents of Hoboken.
When parking revenue has increased in Hoboken by $8 million dollars with the new RFID parking stickers, to have a massive inconvenience like shutting this garage down over a small dispute is a blatant disregard to the people that live here and use the garage.
It’s not about “winning” an argument with someone you don’t like. Save the childsplay for your personal life, not others. To the HPU: Just pay Robotics and deal with it! You have a responsibility!
Related artice (discusses RFID monies):
Bitter dispute may close automated garage Aug. 1
Like a bad marriage where the bickering parents stay together too long for the sake of the kids, the often uncomfortable union between the Hoboken Parking Utility and Robotic Parking Solutions is on the verge of dissolving.
At stake is the future of an innovative yet troubled automated 314-car automated garage at 916 Garden St., which may have to temporarily close unless a resolution is reached before Aug. 1.
Contract severed At its July 12 meeting, the Hoboken City Council passed a resolution that terminates, effective Aug.1, the month-to-month operational, maintenance and repair agreement with the Clearwater, Fla. based firm called Robotic Parking Systems.
The Parking Utility owns the property and the building; however, Robotic Parking owns the garage’s proprietary software.
This means that the HPU cannot provide the operating software to another party. If another firm were to come in, they would have to develop and implement their own operating system, a process that could take at least a few months.
The relationship between Hoboken and Robotic Parking was never completely amicable.
Four years ago, construction delays and cost overruns caused the project to open years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget. The city blamed Robotic Parking for the delays, while Robotic blamed the city and another contractor.
The garage opened in October of 2002, taking 314 cars off of the crowded streets of central Hoboken.
Breakdowns and arguments
In the last year, Hoboken Parking Utility head John Corea has been frustrated with a spate of breakdowns at the innovative automated parking garage (see sidebar pg. 16).
The city has long threatened to look for other companies besides Robotic Parking to run the garage, and now it looks as if that might just happen, requiring the garage to be closed for an extended period.
On Wednesday night, Robotic Parking officials distributed an “open letter to the patrons of 916 Garden St. Garage” that severally criticized city officials.
“Due to circumstances out of our control, certain individuals with the Hoboken Parking Utility, apparently out of some long standing and unresolved personality conflict or other grudge, continue to harass our personnel at the parking garage and continue to threaten to ‘close down the garage’, ” wrote Dennis Clarke, an executive with Robotic.
A last-minute resolution is still a possibility, considering that it’s in both party’s interests to keep the garage open. Robotic Parking uses 916 Garden St. on its promotional material to sell automated garages to other cities around the country.
The council’s termination of the contract has created an “emergency” contract situation, and the Parking Utility is now authorized to “negotiate an emergency contract with Robotic Service Organization or any other qualified vendor.”
From $23,250 to $27,900
The resentment in the relationship flared up at the June 12 City Council meeting. According to Corea, the HPU’s current month-to-month contract with Robotic Parking is $23,250. The city makes money by collecting the parking fees from users of the garage.
Corea told the council that on June 22, Robotic officials made a demand to increase its fee to $27,900 per month, which the City Council has said that it will not accept.
That led to the council approving a resolution to terminate Robotic’s contract at the end of the month.
Corea said that even though there is only a week before the contract is terminated, that he does not expect interruptions. He said that he hopes a deal can be reached.
If the garage does have to close, he said that every effort will be to accommodate those who park there.
On the way out?
While the city conceivably could reach a deal with Robotic Parking for another month-to-month contract, it would only be a temporary solution.
The City Council has authorized the Parking Utility to prepare specifications for a public bid in order to “retrofit the 916 Garage and all necessary software, and operational, maintenance, and repair for the maximum length of time permitted by law.”
Corea said that the city will undertake a global search for a company that can operate the garage. He said that Robotic Parking is welcome to submit a bid.
Robotic says they’re tired of ‘goons’
Clarke said Friday morning that Corea, who he compared to the “Sheriff of Nottingham,” has been abusive toward Robotic employees.
Clarke also contested the assertion that the city was the one who wanted to terminate the contract. He said that Robotic is pulling out because the firm can no longer take the heavy-handed antics of Corea “and his goons.”
“We are getting out of there for the simple reason that we can not sustain this kind of abuse of employees,” Clarke said.
Clark added that Corea “is a two-bit dictator with a tremendous opinion of himself, who in reality is nothing more than the head meter maid.”
Corea has been on the job since February of 2004.
On Wednesday a letter was given to garage users that further outlines their feelings on the matter.
Robotic’s letter complains that the Parking Utility has refused, since 2005, to give Robotic any more than a month-to-month contract to run the facility.
“Further, they have required us to operate it at a loss to our company, in spite of our attempts to get a proper contract to operate and maintain the facility,” the letter reads.
The letter claimed that the Parking Utility is over $20,000 in arrears in payments since Jan. 2006.
“In June 2006, the Hoboken City Attorney indicated to our attorney that the only way we could collect the over $20,000 that has been due to us since January, is to ‘sue the City of Hoboken for it,’ ” Clarke charged.
The letter also states that Robotic asked for a “moderate monthly” increase of $4,500 in its contract. “The money is needed to cover our increased costs, much of those due to the Hoboken Parking Utility’s failure to provide two qualified operators for the garage,” the letter says.
The Robotic letter also states, “In addition, one individual at the Hoboken Parking Utility has repeatedly mounted unwarranted vulgar and threatening harassments at numerous of our paid staff who have traveled to and lived in Hoboken for the sole purpose of seeing the proper running and maintenance of the parking garage.”
Robotic says that now, it has “no choice to refuse to further subsidize the City of Hoboken Parking Utility.” “It is with sincere regret that we now have to announce that we will conclude our servicing and operation of the 916 Garden St. Garage in Hoboken as of midnight, Aug. 1. The city was given 30 days notice,” reads the statement.
“Therefore, as a courtesy, we urge all patrons to remove their vehicles from the 916 Garden Street Garage before midnight Aug. 1 or make other arrangements with the City of Hoboken Parking ahead of time to retrieve their vehicles after that time.”
Clarke said that it would be doubtful that another firm could step in and run the garage. “I give [another firm] a 50/50 change of having it run halfway decent in six to 10 months and will cost them a million dollars to do it,” Clarke said.
Robotic Park finished its letter by taking a swipe at the city and Mayor David Roberts’ administration -, even though Robotic’s initial problems years ago were with the former administration of Mayor Anthony Russo, who left office in 2003.
“Perhaps something will be worked out in the future under another group out of City Hall,” the letter snipes.
A history of delays and problems
In October, 2005, Hoboken Parking Utility Head John Corea posted a letter to patrons of the 916 Garden St. Garage that warned that if they decide to keep using the automated garage they would “have to accept the fact that there may be many future delays.”
He offered customers spaces in the city’s other garages. However, those garages are near the waterfront and are not centrally located.
Then, on Oct. 16, a Hoboken resident’s Jeep was totaled after it fell four stories inside the automated garage. Because the garage is automated and the cars are lifted in the building’s interior, no one was injured.
That was the second time that a car had plummeted in the bowels of the garage. On Feb. 14, 2004, a Cadillac Deville had fallen off the sixth floor.
The October, 2005 incident with the Jeep further strained the already tenuous relationship between the HPU and Robotic Parking Systems. At that time, the Hoboken City Council gave Robotic 30 days to fix the garage, or else the city would attempt to cancel Robotic’s contract.
After the 30 days lapsed, the contract was canceled, and Robotic was hired month-to-month. A resolution passed by the City Council in October listed 14 different areas where the City Council believed Robotic was lacking.
The council’s complaints included alleged lack of proper maintenance, electric violations, and a perceived lack of communication by Robotic.
Robotic denied that they were to blame, and said it was the HPU that was not living up to its contractual responsibilities.
Dennis Clarke, an executive at Robotic Parking said Friday morning, said that the garage has been “operated by a Robotic Service Organization at an unprecedented reliability rating of 99.99 percent based on parking transactions completed.”
He added that, “there is no safer, more secure, better run facility in the world than the one in Hoboken.”
On Nov. 7, a Chrysler’s wheel alignment was damaged when the front of the car dropped into the garage bay. On Jan. 18, 2006 the garage stopped running for approximately 26 hours, which caused patrons to be late for work the next day and miss appointments.
The Hoboken Parking Utility paid for taxis or rental cars so garage users could get to work.
One of the cars stranded was that of state Sen. Bernard Kenny, a Hoboken resident.
To add insult to injury, Robotic stapled to the letter a July 12 letter to the editor published in a daily newspaper titled “Why we shall shun Hoboken,” about how the city’s parking problems are making at least one person boycott Hoboken.