An interview with Dr Barbara Chance on automated car parks

Following on
from the World Parking Symposium at the end of June 2011, Cristina Lynn,
Parking & Traffic Consultants Managing Partner, made a detour to
Philadelphia to meet up with Dr. Barbara Chance of Chance Management Advisors.
You would have met Barbara at the PAA’s biennial convention and exhibition held
in Sydney in November 2010. Cristina had the opportunity to ask Barbara a few
questions about automated car parks.

How many fully automated car parks are you aware
of in the USA?

There are
fewer than 10 now, with several under construction. 

What do you think are the major issues stopping
building owners/developers from adopting this technology?

We have had
an abundance of land to develop for typical ramped garages in the past, so the
advantages of more parking in a smaller “envelope” weren’t really needed.  Now, however, both owners and developers are
understanding the rewards of using less ground or volume to meet their parking
needs, and having more convenient parking as well.  Also, virtually all of the examples of automated
garages were in foreign countries, and (for better or worse) individuals felt
if there weren’t any here in the US to easily go and see, these garages
couldn’t be all that good!  Another issue that arises is the fact that
there are no universal building codes for the new automated designs, and so
each facility has to be “negotiated” with the local code administrators until
the facilities and technology are addressed more broadly.

What is the additional efficiency in terms of
capacity against a traditional car park?

That is difficult to answer simply. 
It all depends upon the design of the car park and the design of the
automated garage.  But, as an example,
under an apartment building in Washington, DC, the typical number of spaces
they could have achieved was 25, but with automated parking they were able to
build 74.  As a general rule of thumb, on
a typical site, at least twice the number of spaces can be created with
automated parking.  But it is good to
remember that on an irregular site, in air rights, or within a building
envelope, automated parking can allow the addition of parking when no other
method would be able to do that.

Here are a
couple of photos of the Washington car park (please note that the damage on the
car door was caused by the driver not by the system!)

Do the costs of an automated car park “stack up”
compared to traditional car parks?

This is a bit of a moving target, as the suppliers of automated systems are
constantly improving their products to be able to compete in the market.  There are two elements to consider.  First is the equipment, which is very
competitive in price.  Second is the
building or structure into which the equipment is installed.  There can be a great deal of variation here,
as in façade treatment for a typical ramped garage.  But the prices we have recently been quoted
are definitely competitive with above ground ramped garages, and are an
improvement over the costs of underground garages.

Tell me a bit about “The Lift” – Philadelphia’s automated
car park

Lift” has just opened to the public this summer.  It is the first US automated garage that is
open to any transient patron, as well as serving monthly patrons.  All of the other existing automated garages
serve only monthly patrons.  The Lift has
224 spaces, and can accommodate regular and oversized vehicles (on the top
floor).  The equipment was retrofit into
an old valet garage – the type that had an internal elevator into which valets
drove a vehicle, took it up to an available floor, drove it into a space, and
then took a “man-lift” back down to the ground floor. 

Although it was
a bit unusual to retrofit this building, it had the advantage of having been
zoned as a “mechanical garage” back in the 1960s, so the owner did not have to
go through the zoning process to obtain permissions for the development.  In addition, the City and the neighborhood
were delighted to have the corner property improved and turned from an eyesore
into a showplace.

The site prior
to redevelopment

under way

under way

Area (2 separate lifts)

Lift interior


Parking Charges

Check out the

What were some of the issues encountered in the

very sophisticated equipment into a concrete structure built decades ago had
its interesting moments.  The correct
tolerances for automated equipment are finite and mandatory, and it was time
consuming and difficult to achieve those in a building built for different
purposes and with less specificity.  A
second issue was getting the PARCS (Parking Access and Revenue Control System)
software and the APS (Automated Parking System) software to “talk” to each
other and make the handoffs from the entry process to the equipment process and
then to the exit process.  The garage
uses RFID entry and exit for monthly customers, and credit card in/out for

What would you do differently in hindsight?

It probably
would have been better to start with a vacant piece of ground and build from
scratch.  The process for resolving
software issues is too complex to answer in this manner. 

What is the feedback so far from the owner?

The owner is
delighted to have the garage completed and open to the public.  It has been a “soft” opening so that any
issues discovered can be resolved.  This
garage is one end of the development spectrum – the retrofit into an existing
building.  The owner now wants to move to
the other end, constructing a new garage on a clean site.  The company believes in the viability of automated
garages, and in their continued growth in the US market. 

What can be done to improve the perception of
automated car parks going forward?

Having more
garages operating, and more people parking in them, will help to alleviate the
fears that some have about this technology. 
In some ways it is ironic that many people believe it is “new
technology”.  In fact, it is quite old
technology, but used in a new way. 
Automated freight movement has been used in ports for decades.  Automated product manufacturing and storage
is used every day for items ranging from medications to ice cream.  Some of the automated garage manufacturing
companies have automated equipment installed around the world.  So these automated garages are simply an
extension of known technology to a new use. 
The biggest improvement, though, will occur naturally through the use of
the garages and natural spread of information from users to other potential

Individuals and
potential owners are very curious about the operating costs of these
facilities.  Having a number of them in
the US will allow us to track the costs of operations more distinctly, as
opposed to getting less precise figures from European garages.  We will be very glad to be able to answer all
of the questions that appear with regard to operating costs, and this will
improve the perceptions as well.

Any other points you would like to add?

A major
advantage of these garages for some owners can be the convenience for the
patrons.  We work with medical centers
that are now considering automated parking, since it is easier for patients (as
well as employees) to leave a vehicle at grade, rather than circulating through
a ramped garage – particularly if they are not accustomed to parking in

important aspect of the automated garages is the “green” or environmental opportunities
that can be achieved.  A major source of
pollutants is the slow driving through a ramped garage searching for a space or
idling in the queue to enter or exit. 
Virtually all vehicle emissions are eliminated through the use of
automated garages.  In addition, there is
no light spill-over, evidence that utility use is lower, fewer construction
materials used (e.g., less depth in slabs supporting vehicles and less height
needed floor to floor), minimal housekeeping needed, and less land required.  Another plus is that public amenities
including elevators, wayfinding, adequate lighting, trash receptacles, fire
alarms, strobes and extinguishers are only needed on the ground floor where
people are present.

automated garages are more secure for persons and vehicles.  There is no need for patrons to wander
through garage floors to find their vehicles, since the vehicles come to them
at the exit area, which is well lit and secure with CCTV cameras and/or
personnel.  Vehicles are more secure
because they cannot be “dinged” by other drivers opening doors or backing into
another vehicle, there is no opportunity for vandalism, and no one has access
to the vehicles while they are parked. 
These are very important issues for some owners and patrons.

We strongly
believe in this parking option for many owners and development circumstances,
and we think it has a bright future here in the US and in other countries that
are just now discovering it.  And we are
indebted to the visionaries who have adapted this great technology to the world
of parking.

Thank you Barbara for your comprehensive responses.

We also hope
that this kind of automation will take hold in Australian cities particularly
where access is tight, where the site has such a small foot print as to make
the provision of traditional ramps unworkable or where excavation and construction
costs are prohibitive.

We are also of
the opinion that the environmental benefits and savings in operating costs have
not yet been fully appreciated. Most negative reaction seems to be still
centered around a perceived lack of reliability for the systems which may not
be totally justified.

We would love to hear from any of our readers who have had any experiences with automated car parks! Let us know in the comments section below. 

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