No parking. itter dispute may close automated garage Aug. 1

No parking
Bitter dispute may close automated garage Aug. 1 
Hoboken Reporter - 07/23/2006

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."

Closing time

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.

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