Car tumbles at automated garage. City Council may cancel contract with management company because of recent 'deficiencies'

Car tumbles at automated garage

City Council may cancel contract with management company because of recent 'deficiencies'

Hoboken Reporter, 10/23/2006 

MORE TROUBLES AT 916 – This Jeep was the second vehicle to fall off a pallet since the garage opened in Oct. 2002. No one was hurt in the accident.  

A Hoboken resident's Jeep was totaled at around 2 a.m. Sunday after it fell about four stories inside the automated Parking Garage at 916 Garden St.

Because the garage is automated and the cars are lifted in the building's interior, no one was injured in the accident. But the incident further strains the already tenuous relationship between the Hoboken Parking Utility (HPU) and Robotic Parking Inc., the Clearwater Fla. firm that installed the computer system and that has a $17,000 per month contract to manage the garage. Just three weeks ago, HPU head John Corea, frustrated with recent breakdowns that have caused delays in storing and retrieving cars, posted a letter to patrons, which warned that if they decide to keep using the garage they will "have to accept the fact that there may be many future delays." He even offered customers spaces in the city's other garages.

In that letter, Corea said that he was not satisfied with Robotic's performance. Robotic responded that the delays stem from the city's failure to adequately staff the facility.

According to Gerhard Haag, the founder and president of Robotic, the city has a contractual obligation to provide two "operators" for the garage. This is a responsibility that HPU hasn't adequately fulfilled, Haag said.

Until August, he said, Robotic had three trained workers at the garage but had to transfer one to another project. Haag said that the HPU has a contractual responsibly to supply two more qualified workers. He added that the HPU has supplied one, but that person does not have the qualifications or ability to operate the automated system.

"When running with our own people, we weren't having any problems," Haag said.

He said the recent problems directly correspond to when Robotic pulled their third person off the projects.

Corea responded to these charges that Robotic is supposed to have one of their employees at the garage from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day. "That's just not happening right now," he said.

Dropping the car

While this he said/she said argument over staffing was already raging, the garage experienced a major malfunction that resulted in the dropping of the Jeep.

According to the Haag, the car was "improperly parked" on the pallet. It wasn't pulled up far enough, he said. Haag added that the sensors didn't pick up the error and when the car was lifted to the fourth floor and started to be put into place, the car tilted backward and fell to the ground. According to Corea, he is having his own professionals investigate the accident. He could not say Tuesday if the incident was a machine error or an operator error.

This is the second car to fall from a pallet since the garage opened in October 2002. The garage has been a lightning rod for controversy in Hoboken. The HPU has insurance that covered the cost of replacing both cars.

Council steps in

On Wednesday night, a clearly aggravated Hoboken City Council unanimously voted to put Robotic on "notice of performance deficiencies."

According to the resolution, Robotic has 30 days to fix the garage or else the city will attempt to cancel Robotic's contract.

The resolution lists 14 different areas where the City Council believes that Robotic is lacking. The following are some of the council's complaints:

* "Lack of proper maintenance: The whole 916 Garden St. facility is suffering from this unacceptable condition. This includes but is not limited to all machinery, elevators, carriers, sensors, actuators, rollers, pumps and hydraulic lifters."

* "Electric violations. The Hoboken Building Department has documented various violations that need to be remedied."

* "Failure to follow required procedures after an accident, emergency or delay in operation." * "Failure to staff the facility with at least one RSO trained operator between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. The presence of this operator is vital to the operation of this garage. This operator is supposed to be familiar with this system and be able to operate the facility."

* "Multiple delays in operation of all durations. These delays cause severe traffic problems on Garden Street. These delays have been much too frequent and have been getting progressively worse. The delays cause patrons to be late for work, miss appointments, and seem to be multiplying out of control. RSO does not communicate any of these delays to the HPU, even though they are supposed to."

Corea said Tuesday that his biggest areas of concern are a perceived lack of maintenance and a lack of communication between Robotic and the HPU.

"They haven't been nearly transparent enough," Corea said, adding that Robotic has not communicated with the HPU when the garage breaks down or when there are major delays. Corea said that he wasn't informed about the Jeep falling until more than nine hours after the fact, when the patron was at the garage to pick up his car. "That's unacceptable," Corea said.

But his criticism, while sharp, comes with a major caveat. Because Robotic created the software and has intellectual rights to the garage's system, they are still the most qualified to operate and fix the facility, Corea said.

"At this point, they are probably the best people to run it," Corea said. "But they have to buckle down and do a better job. I feel like they can run the garage, but they have to maintain it." Haag responded that the electrical violations are "very minor," that Robotic is properly maintaining the garage, and the lines of communication between Robotic and the HPU are open. He added that he was scheduled to fly to Hoboken on Friday to meet with Corea.

"I'm sure we will get this worked out," Haag said.

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