Automated garage still running; judge makes ruling Robotic Parking escorted off property, claims city stole software

The relationship between the Hoboken Parking Utility and Robotic Parking Systems, the Clearwater, Fla. based firm that has operated the 314-car automated parking garage at 916 Garden St., has been dysfunctional through two administrations, but that doesn’t mean severing their ties last week will end the problems.

On Tuesday, just after 10 p.m., Parking Utility head John Corea, flanked by several Hoboken police officers, escorted a Robotic Parking employee out of garage in an attempt to take over operations.

But it’s not that simple.

On Wednesday, Robotic filed legal action against the city in U.S. District Court, asking that the garage be shut down. They argued that the city could be illegally copying the software used to operate the garage.

The city owns the building, but Robotic Parking owns the proprietary software.

“The crux of this is that they need our software, and they have not paid for it,” said Robotic executive Dennis Clarke. He added that their company has spent “at least $10 million” in developing this software and if given to a competitor, it would “destroy” Robotic Parking.

The city’s attorney, Joseph Sherman, said that the city is only interested in operating the garage and has no intention of stealing Robotic Parking’s intellectual property.

Here comes the judge

Judge Stanley Chesley, sitting in Newark, ruled that the city could continue to operate the garage at least until its contract expires with Robotic on Aug. 1.

However, Robotic can have a representative in the garage to ensure its software isn’t being copied. Clarke argued that at this point, the city already has had ample opportunity to copy the software if it wanted.

City Attorney Joseph Sherman said, “All we want to do is operate the garage and provide a service for our customers. We are not copying [software.]”

Mayor David Roberts said, “Our first obligation is to the citizens of Hoboken and patrons of the garage, which is owned by the City of Hoboken. We will not be held hostage by Robotic and we are prepared for a seamless transition.”

How did we get here?

When the 916 Garden St. Garage – a unique automatic facility – opened in Oct. 2002, it was years late and already millions of dollars over budget.

Problems during construction created deeply embedded professional, legal, and personal animosity between the city and Robotic Parking. The city blamed Robotic for the delays, while Robotic blamed the city and another contractor.

Since the opening, there have been highly publicized problems at the garage. Two vehicles were totaled after they fell inside the garage. In October, 2005, Corea posted a letter to patrons warning that if they decide to keep using the automated garage, they would “have to accept the fact that there may be many future delays.”

Robotic counters that Corea is overstating any malfunctions as part of a smear campaign against Robotic. Clarke said that the garage has a “reliability rating of 99.99 percent” and that the garage had been down less than total of 30 hours since it has opened.

“I don’t know of elevator in the country that hasn’t been down at least 30 hours over the past four years,” Clarke said.

‘Vulgar and threatening harassments’

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 Robotic.

The HPU’s current contract with Robotic Parking is $23,250. Corea told the council that on June 22, Robotic officials made a demand to increase the fee to $27,900 per month, which the City Council has said that it will not accept. Robotic contended that a $4,650 is a reasonable moderate monthly increase.

The city makes money by collecting the parking fees, about $200 per month, from users of the garage.

On July 19, Clarke issued a letter to the patrons of the garage that charged that Corea and the Hoboken Parking Utility still owe Robotic money and that Corea has “repeatedly mounted unwarranted vulgar and threatening harassments” towards their staff.

Clarke said they would no longer be able “to further subsidize the City of Hoboken Parking Utility.”

That letter appears to have been breaking point for Corea and the city, which then removed Robotic Parking’s employee from the garage on Tuesday night. Since then, Hoboken Parking Utility employees have operated the facility.

The city has also brought in Unitronics, an Israel-based competitor of Robotic, to begin the process of retrofitting the garage.

Clarke said Robotic plans to file both criminal and civil action against the city of Hoboken.

“Our software is worth defending,” Clarke said. “It has been very clear that they have violated the law, and this is something that we will be pursuing. We will present evidence that they have copied our software.”

He added that they will seek damages of at least $18 million.

“This will not be a good thing for the people of Hoboken because they are going have to pay the bill,” Clarke said.

Roberts responded that the city is fully prepared to defend itself. “That is a matter that will be determined in court,” Roberts said.

Now what happens

What happens on Aug. 1?

Sherman said that it is the city’s “desire” to negotiate a licensing agreement with Robotic to use the software for several months until another firm is able to come in.

Roberts added that it is the city’s goal to keep the garage running.

“The City of Hoboken remains confident that there will be no service interruption at the automated parking garage at 916 Garden St.,” Roberts said. “Working with our parking experts and our city attorney, we have been diligently preparing for such a day when we terminate our relationship with Robotic.”

Even with the high level of distrust between Robotic and the city, it might be possible for the two to work out an agreement the next several days. After all, both parties have a vested interest in keeping this garage open.

Clarke said that he has given the city a list of 12 demands that must be filled before Robotic enters into any agreement with the city.

The list ranges from “an apology to [Robotic’s] staff for all of the harassments and threats” to an ironclad non-disclosure agreement in which the city promises not to share the technology with any competitors.


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