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Automated Systems, Spell-Check, and the Owner's Response ...

John Van Horn

I have had a number of calls lately concerning Automated Parking Systems. You know, those mechanical marvels that take your car and stack it on a pallet like so much inventory at a car factory.
Most of them come from people thinking of investing in such systems and wanting to know whether they should do so. As for the investment part, I am the wrong person to ask. My investment strategy has always been marginal at best.
However, I must say that that portion of the industry has gone quiet. Oh, I hear that many proposals are out and "any day now" construction will start on the next automated system. However, little seems to be really happening.
Why? Probably the same reasons that have plagued the industry for years. Owners aren't willing to take a risk on a "new" technology, the costs are seemingly high, and no one wants to be the first in their area. It is also true that the systems that have been installed have been in areas where no other type of installation would have been appropriate. It was automated or nothing.
My guess is that the last reason is the right one. Why build an automated parking system if you don't have to? It seems that owners and developers have other things on their minds than jumping on a bandwagon just because it's there.
I would suggest that those selling automated systems concentrate on applications where the automated system is the only answer. Either install an automated garage or you will have no parking, and probably no project.
There are plenty of applications where there is not enough space for parking. Or the footprint of the building is too small for a garage underneath. Or the space is needed for the main mission of the organization and parking isn't the priority.
Renovated central areas such as Hoboken, NJ, or elite condo projects like those in Washington, DC, fit these applications perfectly. Those can't be all there are.
Oh, speaking of automated systems: Anyone see "I, Robot"? It's a great thriller about murdering robots and surly detectives, but the important thing in the movie is the automated garage. When our hero, played by Will Smith, visits the company that manufactures these errant servants, he simply leaves his car in front. It is whisked away by an automated garage. Now how the machine knows which car is whose, and how Will is to get his particular car back, is unknown. This is science fiction, so who cares. The scene was computer-generated but sure was neat.
For a couple of days last month, I was locked in an email struggle with a reader who took us to task over our misspelling of "New Orleans" in a headline. We put the apostrophe in the wrong place. Normally, I take criticism willingly; but frankly, the letter got my goat. I responded, got a response, and the battle was on. (See her letter on page NN.)
I didn't include my response or her response as the quality of both the arguments began to quickly deteriorate. One of my staff members said that my email was one of those I should have written then hit the "delete" key. OK, she caught me on a bad day.
I was defending the fact that we had made a mistake and "stuff" happens. I appreciated the fact that readers see these things and we will do better in the future. But the tone of the letter was, I thought, a bit over the top.
Then when I reread the letter, I understood. My correspondent wasn't criticizing the fact that we had made a mistake; she felt that we simply didn't know any better.
It must certainly appear that way, when the headline writer (me), our copy editor and our final proofreader missed the misstep. Then it would seem that we must all be insufficient in the spelling and grammar departments.
Rest assured that we do know how to create a possessive that ends in "s." Also rest assured that we have reviewed our proofreading procedures and will strive for the perfect magazine. We hope we get there, but don't hold your breath.
All that having been said, keep those criticisms coming in. We like them and learn from them.
The media take after parking, phase two: Not only do they run public service ads in the newspaper, they also run them on TV. The "You don't remember all the good times spent in a parking garage" ad by the national ad council is now a TV spot. Cute kids, posing in front of a garage, and you are supposed to think that the evil garage owner tore down their school and replaced it with parking ... Sigh.
Last month, we ran a feature on commercial operators and their concerns, and what they think their clients' concerns are. This month, we turn the tables and ask the clients what their concerns really are. We got about 30 replies, but I think the poll is accurate -- the one thing the vast majority listed: "honesty and revenue control."
One response that caught my eye was the owner who said, "We don't want an operator; we want a manager." 'Bout says it all, doesn't it.

Off to the UK now to attend the Parkex show in Manchester. See my report in November.

Article Abstract from October, 2004




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