Federal Court Judge Stanley Chesler ruled last week that the city of Hoboken broke a confidentiality agreement with Robotic Parking, the Florida-based firm that designed the software for the automated 314-car garage at 916 Garden St., when it brought in an outside firm to use Robotic’s software.
Now the city of Hoboken will be forced to run the automatic garage by itself until it can be retrofitted with new operating system.
The problems began earlier this year, when the city of Hoboken continued its longstanding battle with the garage’s original designer, Robotic Parking, and terminated Robotic’s contract to run the garage.
However, as currently configured, the garage cannot operate without Robotic’s software.
The city and Robotic, after much consternation, eventually reached a licensing agreement where the city would pay a monthly fee of $5,500 to utilize Robotic’s software.
But the story didn’t end there. The Hoboken Parking Utility (HPU) then entered into a contract with an Israel-based firm called Unitronics to operate and maintain the garage.
The idea of having a competitor using their software did not sit well with for Robotic Parking officials. They argued before Chesler that they had spent $10 million of research into developing the software and they had no way to know if Unitronics had illegally copied their valuable software.
Last week, the judge ruled that the city broke its confidentiality agreement with Robotic when it allowed Unitronics to see and use the software. The judge ordered Unitronics off of the property by Nov. 10.
The judge’s ruling allows the garage to stay open, but now only the city can use the software.
Does the city have the in-house expertise to run the garage?
Brought in a competitor
HPU Director John Corea said at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting that, at least in the short term, they will be able to operate the garage.
“The [HPU] will now be responsible for everything to do with the software,” Corea said. “I believe that we absolutely can keep this garage running.”
But Corea admitted that they would not have the expertise to fully maintain or repair the complicated piece machinery for the long term.
Corea said the HPU is currently collecting bids from companies that could come in to retrofit the garage. Those companies would essentially write new software so that Robotic’s software would no longer be needed. The bids are due at the end of the month.
“I do not see us having to close the garage,” Corea said.
He added that if the garage has to shut down, the city would offer the patrons spaces in the city’s other garages.
Fifth Ward Councilman Michael Cricco said he is also hopeful that everything will work out in the end.
“We are going through a period of time is difficult,” Cricco said. “But I’m confident that the garage will remain open.”
History of headaches
The relationship between the City of Hoboken and Robotic Parking was tenuous back to the time that the innovative but troubled garage opened in Oct. 2002. The unique project, conceived during the administration of former Mayor Anthony Russo, ended up being years late and millions of dollars over budget.
Both sides blamed each other for problems during construction and development, which led to a series of attacks, both personal and professional, between city and Robotic officials.
After the garage opened, there were some incidents of damage to cars in the garage. Robotic Parking said the city overstated the problems with the garage and that they were proud of their overall performance record.
In July, the City Council terminated the month-to-month operational, maintenance, and repair agreement with Robotic. Police escorted Robotic’s employees off the property.