Parking “Robots” Provide Relief for Developers in Dense Urban Areas (PT 2)

Depending on the system implemented, a developer can double – even triple – a project’s parking capacity. What’s more, they can do so while reducing the parking garage’s overall footprint.

These systems aren’t cheap. The cost per space for a robotic parking system depends on a number of factors, including the size and layout of a property, the total number of parking spaces needed, and the required speed of the system. The average turnkey price of a system ranges from $20,000 to $30,000 per space for a mid-sized garage. Yet when cost of land (or reduction thereof) is factored into the equation, the spaces become more affordable—roughly $10,000 to $16,000 per space, again, depending on project size.

Operating and Capital Costs: Conventional vs. Automated Parking Garage

Samuel I. Schwartz, P.E., in his article The Garage of the Future Must be Green compared the operating and capital costs of a conventional garage versus and automated parking facility for a proposed 892-car garage in Manhattan, New York. Admittedly, this is a huge garage. Most development projects won’t have parking facilities that large. Nonetheless, his comparison is illustrative.

Conventional Parking

Automated Parking

Capacity/Labor Assumptions

Capacity

892

892

Hours of Operation

24/7

24/7

Expenses

Payroll & Benefits

$850,000

$145,000

Insurance Expenses

$95,000

$50,000

Utilities Expenses

$165,000

$200,000

Repairs & Maintenance

$145,000

$50,000

Bank Fee Expense

$100,000

$100,000

Marketing Expense

$20,000

$20,000

Support Services Expense

$75,000

$35,000

Other Operating Expenses

$150,000

$75,000

Real Estate Taxes Expense

$150,000

$150,000

Capital Costs

Security Cameras

$30,000

$30,000

Capital Account

$240,000

$60,000

GRAND TOTAL

$2,020,000

$915,000

Schwartz points out that the operating costs for a conventional garage are considerably higher with greater needs for maintenance, security, cleaning, snow and salt removal. He writes, “In addition, the useful life of a conventional [parking] deck is about 20 years. The earliest European systems show little or no wear after about 15 years. These steel structures probably have twice the life of conventional garages.” Indeed, one of the first mechanical systems built by Krupp in Munich, Germany in 1956 is still in operation today – after more than a half a century.

"When all factors are considered, the cost of operating an automated garage is less than half (-55%) that of a conventional garage,” Schwartz concludes. In this particular case an operator can save over $1.1 million / year with automated parking.”

The Benefits of Automated Parking

The most obvious benefit from using an automated parking system is the ability for a developer to reduce a garage’s footprint. Travel lanes and ramps are eliminated, and parking spots can be smaller because you’ve eliminated the need for people to open and close car doors – leading to an overall reduction in garage size ranging from 40 to 80 percent.

This makes is much easier for a developer to comply with the municipality’s parking requirements, particularly in dense urban areas. Construction costs are lowered (e.g. less land area needed to accommodate structured parking, less money spent on excavation for underground parking garages); the construction timeline can be accelerated; and space that was otherwise slated to be used for parking can be monetized by adding new rentable space/units or enhancing building amenities.

Building tenants and visitors also benefit from automated parking, which reduces the stress of finding and squeezing into parking garage spaces. No more worrying about dings and dents caused by people opening car doors in tight parking garages!

And let’s not forget about the environment: automated parking garages reduce gas use and pollution that results from vehicle emissions. Should the parking structure become obsolete in the future, the structural parking elements can be removed and the building can be reused for alternative uses.

Garage Technology

The technology used in these automated parking systems continues to be refined, and often includes the integration of a redundant server that allows the parking garage to continue operating if a piece of equipment goes down. In the event of a power outage, most automated parking garages have a back-up emergency power generator on site to ensure customers are still able to retrieve their vehicles accordingly.

Automated parking garages are increasingly integrating mobile technology into their systems. For instance, mobile apps can be used to make a reservation in a specific garage, to retrieve a vehicle, or to manage payments electronically. The attraction for use of customer mobile devices is the cost to the operator, which is low given that the operator need only provide the app rather than the hardware. The limitation, of course, is that not all customers may carry mobile devices, requiring the duplication of software and hardware (e.g. a pay station) to perform some of the same functions (at least for now).

Nonetheless, these systems aren’t infallible.

In Hoboken, NJ, where the nation’s first robotic garage was built more than a decade ago, a Cadillac plunged six stories, and a Jeep fell four stories a year later. Then there was an automated parking garage in Maryland, which was forced to close down after an employee fell to his death.

A dispute between a luxury condo developer and automated parking garage developer left residents at the 46-story Brickell House stranded back in 2015. Residents were promised (and paid for!) a cutting-edge parking garage that would deliver their vehicles in less than 10 minutes. When the building opened, wait times routinely exceeded 45 minutes. All parties pointed fingers: the building developer blamed the garage’s operator, Boomerang, which declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier that year. Boomerang blamed Parking Source, one of its lenders, who had stopped funding the company’s operations. To complicate matters, the developer also had a financial interest in Parking Source, a messy financial relationship that left Brickell House residents in the lurch.

Months went by with no resolution in sight. “I’m going to move out,” Brickell House tenant Aldo Ferri told the New York Times, expressing his extreme frustration over the situation.

This highlights one of potential risks associated with moving to an automated parking garage. The hardware and software deployed by the system’s operator is proprietary and unique to each company. Should a company go out of business (as was the case of Boomerang), the developers may be required to pursue legal action for recourse – leaving residents in the lurch in the meantime.