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by Daniel Gloade on July 30, 2014

One of the principle challenges facing any small-business owner is the number of parking places near his or her business.  If the nearest parking spaces are along the side of the street (metered parking) then potential customers may avoid you if:

  • Fear he or she will have insufficient small change;
  • People will not want to stay and browse in fear of letting the meter run out;
  • There will be no parking places available;
  • Entry and exit from a space will be difficult (parallel parking);

If you nearest parking spaces are in a parking garage, customers might avoid you because:

  • Extra distance to travel from garage to desired location;
  • Cost;
  • Concerns for personal safety.

For that reason, shopping malls are very popular.  Parking at the mall still costs money.  The mall owner shifts the costs to the mall occupants who, in turn, shift the costs to the customer.  Being human, however, if the price is out of sight then it is out of mind.

Second, the high rate of rent deters small business owners from using malls.  Usually only franchisees are willing to risk entering a lease to use a mall.

Small business owners wish there was free parking near their business.  The problem for cities, however, is finding sufficient space.  The pressure from small business owners clashes with the pressure for more road space for cars and bicycles.

The city of Kitchener- Waterloo hopes to alleviate the pressure with the Light Rail Transit System. The Kitchener Transit system may not be comprehensive enough, however, for people to give up their cars.  If people wish to shop downtown, they need a place where they can park his or her car free and then transfer to the LRT.  Any transit system must work with car owners.

I suggest that a better solution for many small businesses is robot parking.  In essence, cars drive on to a mobile hydraulic pallet.  The driver walks away and a robot or human attendant uses to move the car to a space that is tightly compacted with other cars.

Because the pallets and machines move the cars, you need far less driving space for the driver to reach a space.  This means that you can park approximately twice as many cars as a regular parking place.  Because the cars are not running and no human is with the cars the building that stores the cars need not be vented.  This lack of venting reduces construction costs.

There are many types and designs for robotic parking places.  The design I suggest, however, is a horizontal carousel.   Each car would have a pallet.  Each person drives on an elevator with pallet at the bottom.  On each floor, there would be a closed circuit track.  The track would move so that the elevator opens either to the desired car or to an empty space.  The car would slide off the elevator and onto the track from the side.   Heavier vehicles will be at the bottom floors.

I suggest that this method is more efficient that the Ferris Wheel design advocated by others.   It would take less energy.  In the Ferris Wheel design, the machines have to lift up cars or arrest their rotation if one wishes to get a space. Given the weight of the vehicles, if there is an uneven load then one needs a great deal of energy.  If the vehicles move horizontally on a track, however, then less energy is required.

Second, it is more flexible.  There can be different pallets for different sizes of vehicles. The elevator would evaluate the size of the vehicle and collapse the size of the pallet according.  As long as there is sufficient room on the track, there is no problem.  This flexibility allows for a greater number of vehicles to use the parking building and reduces the wasted space caused by smaller vehicles.

Third, the elevators will weigh the vehicles.  Heavier vehicles will stay on the bottom.  This will reduce the energy needed to place the vehicles in high spaces.

To pay for parking, one would get a ticket to both retrieve your vehicle and to calculate the fee.  One can use a debit card to pay.

If the vehicle remains after hours, the computer can send a fax to a pre-selected tow truck company with a bar for reading.  The tow truck driver can retrieve the unwanted card just like a regular customer.

It has the advantages of the following:

  • It does not interfere with street traffic;
  • There is no meter to feed;
  • Costs are largely “out of sight”;
  • People will not have to fear for personal safety;
  • Parallel parking unnecessary;
  • It does not encroach on the street traffic.

The problem is the initial capital investment.  Given the growth of urbanization, however, it is unlikely that such a profit will not be profitable in the future.

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