ZOUK MIKAEL, Lebanon: “We need to save land, we need to address the traffic in Lebanon,” said Elias Beainou, general manager of Ayoub Beainou and Sons Company. With traffic and parking a perennial issue in the capital, Beirut’s governor has pledged to relieve the city’s chronic congestion. However, now Lebanese companies – including ABSC – are coming up with their own, futuristic, solutions to the capital’s parking problem.
They are part of a cohort of Lebanese innovators looking for a viable and efficient solution to parking that looks upward rather than digs down with underground parking lots. They have built a tall, automated rotary system for parking cars that stacks them on ramps, a system they hope to roll out across the country.
In late February, Beirut Gov. Ziad Chebib promised to deliver a plan rehabilitating the city’s public transit system, attributing the current lack of space to the “random urban development and expansion of Beirut.”
Underground parking facilities are a central component of Chebib’s proposed project.
Although the need for new parking infrastructure has been discussed for several years, progress on the issue has been slow.
Beainou’s system effectively functions as a Ferris wheel for cars. In these designs, cars, rather than people, sit on rotating palettes that are lifted high into the air. The design seeks to take up minimal ground space by hoisting vehicles up vertically, rather than spreading them across a traditional lot.
“When a client comes to park in the system, he enters on the lower pallet to park the car. Sensors detect that a car is being parked,” Antoine Beaino, chief technology officer of ABSC, said. “The person then descends from his car to the panel outside and enters a four-digit password. The car then rotates for the next empty palette to come down.”
To retrieve a vehicle, users re-enter their four-digit password on a touch screen and wait for the car to rotate to the bottom. If a car is “parked” at the peak of the structure, it will descend in one minute and 30 seconds. Beaino likens the structure, with its touch-screen element, to a mobile phone.
ABSC is the exclusive Lebanese agent of the Korean automated parking system firm, Dongyang PC., Inc. The Korean firm is the original manufacturer of the particular structure ABSC seeks to install nationwide. Dongyang has successfully installed its system in 54 countries around the world.
“About 250 structures have been installed globally, and 300 are in Seoul alone,” Beaino told The Daily Star. “It’s been tried and tested. We went to them because they were the best [in the field].”
As for expansion plans, ABSC’s current focus is on the private sector, with projects being negotiated in Beirut’s central Hamra and Ashrafieh neighborhoods, as well as Jal al-Dib and Dora, general manager Beainou said.
ABSC’s chief technical officer added that each installation is time-intensive, requiring a survey of the site’s specific traffic patterns and environmental complications.
“Each [installation] has to be different given the space,” Beaino said.
An office block and a restaurant, for example, will have divergent traffic patterns.
Sassine-based Smart Parking Cooperation Lebanon is also attempting to introduce its own new system of parking.
“Dongyang’s system is good. When I first started this project years ago, I wanted to import their product into our market,” Ali Jaber, legal adviser of SPCL, told The Daily Star.
“We contacted the Dongyang company but after they sent me the first offer with the added calculations, it was unaffordable.” He was also concerned about the maintenance of foreign-made machinery.
Instead, Jaber investigated the possibility of manufacturing such a system locally and was, he said, ultimately successful. In June 2016, SPCL installed its prototype parking structure in Beirut’s Mathaf.
Although the structure bears some similarities to that of ABSC, SPCL’s use of local manufacturing gives it the ability to customize each structure.
The company puts emphasis on public projects and is attempting to work directly with municipalities.
“There is a lot of empty land that is not used, but they’re too small for the municipalities to use,” Jaber said. “For us, the small space is an advantage because it fits the space for our smart parking structures.”
Old buildings in neighborhoods such as Ashrafieh would make underground parking structures – as advocated by Chebib – untenable, he said. However, such an environment, the company claims, is ideal for SPCL’s structures.
“Nearly 60 or 70 percent of buildings in Ashrafieh are old. There is no underground parking but all these buildings have a small area behind that they use for parking, which is not enough for the number of residents. We can augment that space by applying a couple of smart parking systems,” Jaber said.
Despite his enthusiasm, Jaber understands the challenges he faces in implementing these new designs.
“This should be a very good solution for the public sector, but you know, we’re working slowly and things take time in this country. [Another] problem is that in Lebanon, everyone is afraid of new things,” Jaber said.
To ease the minds of skeptics and increase visibility, SPCL has already committed to finance three of their parking structures in a high-traffic spot next to a church in Sassine.
“We want to solve problems near the church where it is crowded and congested. It is also good for us because then people will be able to see [our structure] and experience it,” Jaber said.
If all goes as planned, he predicts that SPCL’s smart parking structures will be more common throughout Beirut a year from now.
“But still,” he added with a laugh, “this is Lebanon. You never know.”