Montreal’s 311 system receives, on average, around 1 million calls each year. About 65 per cent of those calls are requests for information, and the rest are requests for city services, such as fixing broken street lamps and carting away uncollected garbage.

Of those service calls, half are follow-ups to past requests that weren’t delivered.

To Harout Chitilian, the executive council member responsible for Montreal’s Smart City initiative, the high number of service calls point to a failing on behalf of the city.

“The main driver for the redesign of the 311 system should be getting more information out there to reduce number of calls for information,” Chitilian said during an interview. “If we have a better website, a better knowledge base, we can provide information better.”

There’s certainly room for improvement. Although there is lots of information in the city’s official website, much of it is hard to find. Many links lead to non-existent pages and the text-heavy presentation seems outdated.

It’s little wonder Montrealers opt for a human on the phone or a service counter.

But having useful, easy-to-find information is one step. A greater challenge is ensuring residents they are being heard so they don’t have to make repeat service requests, or duplicate the requests made by others.

For example, the city receives multiple calls to remove the same graffiti, Chitilian said. “If someone already made a request for removal of graffiti, why send it again?” he says.

Even Mayor Denis Coderre conceded during a meeting of the city’s executive committee that the 311 system needs improvement. “There was a situation of water break in Plateau and people in LaSalle answered. They did overtime, then another borough took over,” he said. “We have to rethink 311, redefine it.”

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Chitilian points to the SeeClickFix website as a potential solution. The website lets users from various cities report urban problems like trash and potholes, to which city officials can respond. Anyone can read the complaints to see what has been reported, add comments and pictures, and find out what has been resolved.

San Francisco is one of the top participating cities, and the city of Côte St-Luc also uses it.

Although a profile for Montreal has been created, and about 470 issues reported, these are mostly from a handful of users, and no city official has acknowledged them.

Another possible replacement is the Open311 model used by Toronto, which groups problems into clear categories, and makes the data publicly available for residents to track.

“It’s stunning that one has to go through access to information to get these numbers,” said Sylvain Ouellet, city councillor for the Villeray—St-Michel—Parc-Extension borough with Projet Montréal. “This kind of data should be public in a smart city, to see how we can improve city services and as a question of transparency and keeping tabs on the authorities.”

Chitilian and his team have not settled on a solution, and there’s no target date for its launch. Whatever system the city settles on, it will maintain the current decentralized structure of one call centre in each borough.

“The role of the city is to support the boroughs and assume a leadership role in the strategy to improve the 311 experience,” he said.

 

This feature is adopted from Montreal Gazette.



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