By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun
October 13, 2013
"Robotic parking" might conjure up images of a far-off future. Wes Guckert is trying to make it a lot more common now.
Also known as automated parking garages, such facilities are the vehicle version of a high-tech warehouse: Hydraulic lifters "park" the cars, requiring smaller spaces and allowing drivers to skip the step of circling around in search of a spot.
Guckert — CEO of The Traffic Group, a White Marsh firm that provides traffic studies and other transportation services — is a robotic-parking evangelist, promoting the concept in presentations around the country.
"These types of facilities have been in existence in Europe and Asia for 50 years, but they have not been used to a great extent in the United States," he said.
He's seeing a shift as the cost of building automated garages decreases. The Palisades apartment complex in Towson has one, and he said he's working on three robotic-parking projects in the Mid-Atlantic region, including one in downtown Baltimore.
Guckert, who founded The Traffic Group in 1985 and employs about 80, chatted with The Baltimore Sun recently about parking, the traffic-industry effect of the real estate bust and where he sees transportation heading.
What got you interested in robotic parking? What do you believe are the key benefits?
I realized we needed to provide additional products or services, certainly during the recession and beyond. Once I learned about the multitude of benefits associated with automated/robotic parking garages, I just did not see a downside.
Robotic parking garages accommodate twice as many vehicles in the same space as conventional parking, which is particularly useful in urban areas where land is at a premium. The ability to park vehicles door-to-door and bumper-to-bumper allow robotic parking garages to save land space. Saving 30-50 percent of land typically needed for a ramp garage is significant. …
Beyond the physical footprint, robotic garages mean lower car emissions and reduced fuel consumption. Fuel savings average 83 percent, while toxic substances in the air drop 68 percent for VOCs [volatile organic compounds], 77 percent for carbon monoxide, 81 percent for nitrogen oxide and 83 percent for carbon dioxide when compared to a conventional parking system.
When you pitch the idea to people, what sorts of responses do you get?
After hundreds of presentations around the country, the responses are generally the same. Most ask if these are the same as garages they have seen in New York City, and the second question revolves around affordability. … The land savings alone can often make automated parking worthwhile from a cost standpoint.
What effect did the real estate bust have on your traditional traffic-study business, and how have you coped?
We ended up with a 35 percent reduction in top-line sales and needed to rebuild the business. At one time, 90 percent of our business came from traditional traffic studies and real estate developers. We realized if we were to survive, we had to make some serious changes.
Today, because of our strategic business development and marketing plan, 60 percent of our business is outside of Maryland and about 50 percent of our total business is now government-related. The combination of expanding geographically and within additional sectors resulted in the success we are experiencing in 2013. Robotic and automated parking is helping with that success.
Do you have any thoughts about the future of transportation? Where are we headed as a country?
Most other parts of the world have dealt with traffic and transportation issues much faster than the U.S., which is often hamstrung by regulation. Other countries — some of which are thought of as Third World — have developed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems that carry more people than the largest subway systems in the U.S.
BRT costs 10 percent of light rail transit in the U.S. There are successful BRT systems throughout China, Central and South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East that move an incredible number of passengers. BRT is one of those solutions we believe will be essential for the U.S.
Additionally, in order to maintain or expand the interstate system, tolling will be absolutely essential, as the federal government has run out of money to maintain it. Tolling exists along the Capital Beltway in Virginia and will soon exist in a very small way along I-95 north of Baltimore. Expect to see tolling of the interstate grow over the next several years.
We used to talk about telework and telecommuting. With today's technology, workers can "tele-anywhere." This provides an opportunity for employees to travel outside peak commuting hours. Instead of having a "rush hour" in the morning and evening, the commuting hours will become commuting periods that may last from 6-11 a.m. and begin again late afternoon until 7- 8 p.m.
Where's your go-to place when you're not working, and what do you do there?
I have a few places. Spending time with my wife, children and grandchildren — wherever that may be — is my favorite place. I also enjoy my home in the Fenwick area and wherever I can find a golf course.
Title: President and CEO of the Traffic Group
Education: High school degree from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute; bachelor's degree in sociology from Regents College in New York (now Excelsior College)
Family: Wife Toni Guckert, daughter Renee Pristoop, son Anthony Guckert and five grandchildren
Hobbies: "Golf and work. I love my job."
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