Mayor Robertson leery of timing for 311 launch in Vancouver

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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Vancouver commuters stuck in traffic due to Gregor's Gridlock will be able to simply call 311 to reach the Mayor to complain

As we first reported here a few months ago, the "soft launch" of Vancouver's new 311 program is underway and it should go "live" on Monday, June 15th. What, you haven't heard of 311 and you live in Vancouver? Well, you needn't apologize. Your lack of awareness regarding 311 can be chalked up to the fact there has been dead air from the communications department over the last few months on this great new service. For heaven's sake, as of one day before the supposed launch, the City's website only had a lame reference to 311 mentioning it's "coming soon".

It is simply hard to believe the communications department, who's job it is to communicate, have remained all but silent on the launch of the largest new program the city has seen in years. I'm told they've been so busy preparing to spend the $250,000 council gave them for the "extensive" communications spin plan surrounding the Burrard St. Bridge lane closures, that 311 has taken a back seat. Of course, they've also been a tad busy getting ready for the Olympic Games as well.

The new 311 service will allow Vancouver citizens to connect to their city hall 24/7 and in multiple languages. No more fumbling through a phone book or getting charged a loonie by 411 to locate an obscure city hall number, you can now connect to 12th and Cambie by simply dialing 311. Other cities such as Winnipeg, Calgary, Windsor and New York have successfully implemented it to rave reviews.

The communications department, headed by Laurie Best, should have been ramping up their communications strategy big time over the last several months. The launch of 311 is the biggest thing to hit the city in a long time, and any other jurisdiction would have celebrated the fact that citizens will have increased access to their local government. However, since the project was spearheaded by the previous NPA administration, and not Vision (who all voted against it), it's not likely to catch the attention of the communications shop.

We're also left wondering if the Mayor and company don't really want to promote 311 too heavily before they close down a lane of traffic to vehicles on the Burrard Bridge. Just imagine, there could be thousands of commuters stuck in Gregor's Gridlock. If they're angry and idling in heavy traffic, they'd likely want to call the Mayor's office to give him a piece of their mind. As it currently stands, not many people would know the phone number of the Mayor's office.

Effective Monday, Mayor Robertson's phone number will become very easy to remember - 311. Is it any wonder that Mayor Gregor is not all that thrilled with the prospect of both 311 and his cherished lane closure coming around the same time. Oops...that's called bad timing.

Fellow civic affairs panelist Frances Bula writes about her experience with 311 in "soft" launch mode. It had a few glitches when she called, but she highlites why the Mayor's office staff are very leery of giving citizens such clear access to the Mayor:

But my suffering is as nothing compared to, for example, the mayor’s office, where both non-political and political staff are now turning into a secondary switchboard inside city hall. Because when the 311 operators hears the words, “I want to speak to the mayor …” then that’s where the call gets put through. Doesn’t matter if the words after are “about a pothole” or “about why my taxes are so high” or “about the warehouse down the street that’s running a porn-production operation.”

Needless to say, when Gregor's gridlock gets under way in due course, we at will take it upon ourselves to advise the commuting public how to reach their mayor. We're about to launch a new website and accessing the Mayor will be as easy as 123...or should that be 311.

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You'd think they'd want to get something out of the 10 million plus that was spent on this system.

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