Right now in the U.S., 22 garages already are using automated systems to store and retrieve vehicles, and it’s starting to scale up. Ground is breaking soon on a parking structure for a mixed-use development in Oakland, California, and it is claimed to be the newest such fully automated structure in the San Francisco Bay Area—and one of relatively few to allow public access (it will be visitor parking) and to be unmanned. The structure’s footprint is just 1600 square feet, the size required by seven surface-parking spots, yet it has 39 parking spaces over seven levels.
What it amounts to is virtually a dumbwaiter for cars. You drive the vehicle past a height sensor, then through a garage doorway and onto a platform—which itself is on what look like the tracks you’d find at an automatic carwash. Following instructions on a screen, you exit your vehicle, and visit a kiosk to get a ticket that you use to retrieve the vehicle upon your return. The system rotates the vehicle, loads it onto an elevator, and then stores it away on the appropriate shelf, potentially several stories up or down in a narrow-footprint building.
Retrieval, according to CityLift, the company behind the development, takes less than two minutes after inserting the ticket.
This summary is missing one key piece of information: how does this work financially? Putting more cars into less space should generate more revenue but this technology could be costly to purchase and maintain. In other words, how attractive would this option be to developers and owners of parking lots and garages?
I wonder how this might alter an experience I had in an underground garage in Chicago earlier this year. This particular garage was long and narrow with the lengthy side going away from the entrance. When we drove into the garage, it wasn’t much of a problem: we found the attendant and he had plenty of time to go find a spot further back in the garage. However, our return after a large sporting event concluded was more problematic. One side of the garage had cars stacked two deep, the other side had them stacked three deep, and the one attendant was running back and forth to bring cars up to the front of the garage. We were fortunate to be closer to the front of the line but I’m sure others behind us waited over an hour to have their car retrieved. Two minutes retrieval would be a significant help in this situation as would having fewer cars total in the garage (this helps with a rush of people coming in or out at the same time).