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Automation helps drivers in a tight spot

Updated: 2012-07-17 07:55
By Zheng Xin ( China Daily)

When Liu Chang bought his first car last year, he thought it would boost his social life. Instead, the car all but ended it.

"With the competition for parking so intense where I live, I usually have no choice but to tear myself from a party and drive home," said the 22-year-old Beijing University of Technology student.

His home is in Cheniandian Hutong, part of a labyrinth of alleys in Beijing's Dongcheng district.

"I either have to look around for hours for a parking space or leave my car (in a no-parking zone) and worry all night about being fined 200 yuan ($30) for illegal parking," he said.

Lucky for Liu, his hutong is the first in the city to get an automated underground parking garage.

With room for 170 vehicles, residents say the four-story facility, adjacent to the eastern entrance of the alley, will ease his headaches.

"The hutong is already very narrow, and cars make it even worse," said Dong Yu, a resident. "The parking lot eases the problem without sacrificing residential green space."

All of the automatic spaces have already been reserved for a monthly fee of 280 yuan, according to Dongfang Jielu Parking Management Co, the company that built and manages the lot.

Beijing has 5 million vehicles on its roads, leading to fierce competition for parking. The problem is especially acute in neighborhoods with historic sites or conservation areas, such as hutong.

In Dongcheng alone, more than 340,000 vehicles have been registered, yet the district has only about 150,000 parking spaces.

Yang Haiming, deputy director of Dongcheng's urban comprehensive management committee, said about 10 more automated underground garages will be built in the near future.

Work is expected to start on one near Nanluogu Xiang, a popular tourist spot, by the end of the year.

"Public facilities in hutong lag far behind (those in other areas) and do not meet the demand," said Zhou Yanmin, a professor at Tsinghua University's architecture school. "As more people buy cars, these narrow alleys have been overrun by them, which not only detracts from the ancient architecture, but also inconveniences residents."

However, she pointed out the potential dangers parking garages pose to conservation and urged the government to make thorough studies to ensure historical sites are protected.

"Some architecture is very fragile and should not be subject to modernization or refurbishment," Zhou warned.

Meng Yuesheng, a spokesman for Dongfang Jielu, said car owners can pick up or park their vehicles simply by swiping a card. However, if they happen to forget to bring it, they can also get their vehicle by telling an attendant their license plate number and showing their identity card.

Meng said the automatic parking decks cost less to build because the structure is smaller than a conventional structure of the same capacity.

However, given the cost of the mechanical equipment, which has fire detection and protection devices and surveillance cameras, and the building labor and maintenance costs, the company is not yet making a profit.

"The project is meant to benefit the public and is not profitable for now," said Meng. "The users' cost will be reviewed after the pilot project has been running half a year."