For Vancouver residents, City Hall looks a lot like it did yesterday. That is, with one minor exception - the soft launch of 311 starts today.
Vancouverites won't notice much of a difference in service over the next few months as the system is not quite fully functional. In fact, if you live in Vancouver and dial 311, you'll simply get an 'out-of-service' message. However, as of this morning, many of the 550 numbers currently found at City Hall are now being seamlessly redirected to the new 311 service centre. City officials want to test the system out first before it goes live sometime in June.
When 311 is operational, City Hall will be fully accessible 24/7 and in multiple languages. 311 will allow you to speak to a service agent about everything from business permits to pot holes. The best thing is there will be a clear set of customer service standards which means you will never have to worry about your concern or complaint falling into the abyss.
The Vision/COPE members of Council fought hard against the implementation of 311 and voted against it at every step. It was approved by the tightest of margins with 6 NPA voting in favour, and 5 voting against. Word is that Vision was worried it could have an impact on jobs at City Hall. The civic unions were vocal in their opposition to the project from the get go. That said, I predict once the service is firing on all cylinders, Vision will be there with bells on for the ribbon cutting telling the public they supported this all the way.
The 311 program was the brainchild of former City Manager Judy Rogers and will cost the City about $12 million to implement. A number of major cities such as Calgary and New York have used the 311 model for years.
Last week the topic of 311 came up during the weekly civic affairs panel on the Bill Good Show. Fellow columnist and civic affairs blogger Frances Bula told the audience she remains unconvinced the new service is worth the investment. She challenged listeners to phone in with their opinion, and so they did.
Two separate callers who had previously experienced the benefits of 311 in both New York and Calgary called in to say they were looking forward to it being fully operational in Vancouver. They said it was a great service and they both thought it was worth the investment.
As I stated in a previous post, that was the kind of reaction citizens had to 311 when I visited the Big Apple in 2006 as part of my research on the subject. Everyone I spoke to simply loved it and said it had "revolutionized" the way they interacted with New York City Hall - for the better.
So the soft-launch starts today, but the big event is only a few months away. Hopefully I'll be invited for the official opening! I'm sure the invitation is in the mail.