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Volkswagen’s Autostadt. (Christian Charisius/REUTERS)
Volkswagen’s Autostadt. (Christian Charisius/REUTERS)

The Green Highway

Robo-parking: saving time, space and gas Add to ...

I’ve come to the conclusion that a parking garage has to be robotic to be green.

There are now several examples that show that using automated machinery to move cars into parking spaces is the environmentally responsible way to go.

The only robotic parking facility I’ve visited is at Volkswagen’s Autostadt in Wolfsberg, Germany. It consists of two 20-storey glass towers that store 600 new VWs for customers who want to take delivery at the factory. You press a button with the right code and elevators go up and down and car-bearing pallets move around and, presto, the car pops out before the teary-eyed buyer.

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Now they’re building more functional, less flashy versions as everyday automated car parks in places like Dubai and New Zealand.

The first great advantage of them is that they require only half the space to park the same number of cars as a conventional garage. Cars get slotted into spaces like a letter box; there are no up-and-down ramps and no aisles. That means there are no cars wasting gas by driving around looking for a space. The electromechanical automated parking machinery moves the cars into and out of parking spaces.

The biggest one built so far is in Dubai. It has a capacity of 765 vehicles and is able to park 250 cars an hour. This robotic machinery will spit your car out 2-1/2 minutes after you’ve paid at the payment machine. They’re adding a feature that will let you order an automated car wash when you enter.

It’s being pitched to motorists as “a premium valet parking using state-of-the-art technology.”

It’s being pitched to land developers and city planners as “More Green Space – Less Garage Space.” Taking into account land value, it’s argued that an automated facility can be built at a lower cost than a conventional garage. Robotic parking systems can be built above ground or underground. Because only half the excavation is needed for the same amount of parking as conventional garages, there’s a big cost saving on the excavation alone.

I particularly like the fact that, in a robotic parking garage, there are no cars driving around burning fuel looking for a space. Nor will you find huge lineups at the payment window at peak periods.

If you’ve ever parked in that monstrosity under Toronto City Hall you know what an improvement an automated garage would be. A U.S. company that builds such facilities argues that a 1,500-car automated garage would save about 20,000 gallons of gasoline a year in the parking process.

I’ve seen how well the system works at VW’s Autostadt and have no doubt that similar installations would be equally efficient. You drive head-first into one of the bays from which your car will be transported. When your car is returned, it has been turned 180 degrees so you drive out head-first, too.

It’s clean, quiet, efficient and has a nice “wow” factor.

I’m surprised that one of the big high-end hotels or condos that have gone up recently in Toronto hasn’t included robotic parking. It would be a real selling feature.

The lack of downtown parking is in part due to the large space required for conventional ramp parking. A compact robotic parking garage takes up 50 per cent less space and gets cars’ engines turned off sooner. I’ve written in the past about studies that have found that nearly half the cars in a downtown core are simply driving around looking for a place to park. Let’s let the robots get them off the street faster.

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