City of Vancouver unveils 24-hour phone information system

By Christina Montgomery, Vancouver Province
It will affect you on a daily basis. It will revolutionize your relations with City Hall.
It may even get that pothole in front of your apartment fixed a little faster.
That was the sales job as businessmen from the downtown core gathered Tuesday to hear what they could expect from the city’s new $13-million “311” phone system.

Plans for the single-point-of-entry phone system were approved in 2006. Under the system, anyone can dial “3-1-1” 24 hours a day to ask about any city-related matter.
Neighbour’s dog barking too loud? Where do I get bus information? Fresh graffiti on your fence? What’s to do in town this long weekend? What kind of permit do I need to build a deck? Why did council approve a liquor permit for the restaurant down the block?
Specialized workers will take calls, assign the problem a number and pass callers on to the appropriate person – on link them with another agency – where necessary. In other cities, about 80 per cent of calls are handled immediately.
The number allows callers to track progress on their problem and the city to amass valuable data on how its service record and activities in the city.
Mayor Sam Sullivan told the lunch group that he became curious about the idea while on his first official trip to New York and heard that city’s system widely praised – and sold on it when he later heard similar praise in Calgary, the only Canadian city to use the system.
Terry Pearce, manager of Calgary’s 311 system, said the system there helped with coyotes roaming the downtown core. By tracking complaint calls, the city was able to track and help remove the animals.
Pearce also warned that the system creates a whole new way of life for city managers and workers whose response to calls is suddenly opened up to more scrutiny than they are used to.
But Sullivan, who has been widely criticized for launching a system that will cost $13 million to launch and $5 million a year to run, said it was worth doing.
“It will have a powerful impact on people’s lives” and revolutionize their relations with city hall, Sullivan said.
NPA Coun. Peter Ladner, running for the mayor’s seat in next month’s municipal election and an early supporter of the plan, told the crowd he was happy to have insisted that city staff find enough savings in other operations to fund the system without extra tax money being needed.
Vision Vancouver’s Coun. Raymond Louie, who is also running for reelection, agreed yesterday the system would provide benefits, but questioned its launch at a time when property taxes have increased sharply and the city faces stress on its finances.