Toronto sells the efficiency of 311 services to its citizens
When high noon strikes today, it will be exactly three hundred and eleven days of Vancouver's 311 service. That's 311 days without the City of Vancouver announcing it to the public. 311 days with a "Coming Soon" placeholder page on the City of Vancouver's website at http://vancouver.ca/311.
How do we know that? Well, of course CityCaucus.com has provided you with a convenient source to check how long the Vision Vancouver city council has been "beta testing" 311, while quietly hoping it goes away. Simply look at the top of your web browser on any page of this site, and you'll see the clock ticking away.
During these times of deep symbolism at City Hall, like symbolic environmentalism expressed in a $49,000 community garden at 12th & Cambie, our 311 Countup Clock™ represents Vision's cynical politics. Here's an idea that has been embraced by major cities throughout North America – such as New York, Toronto, Calgary, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Winnipeg and even Chicago, former home of our new Deputy City Manager Sadhu Johnston. All of these cities love their 311 service.
Vision Vancouver when in opposition howled derisively against implementing this service to create a more efficient and accountable city. Their pals in the labour unions also slammed this service that might make some of the work done by their members more accountable to taxpayers. For example, do you know that when you call in a problem to 311 that you are provided with a case number in order to track your request? It's a bit like using a service such as FedEx, where you always know the status.
So as the clock keeps ticking, Vancouverites are blissfully unaware of this great new service to enhance and improve the services they receive from City Hall.
When City staff were asked for their suggestions on how to improve core services, they overwhelmingly cited 311 as a way to create efficiencies. In this list of suggestions by staff 311 is mentioned on 15 different pages of the 49-page document. In only one case of all the ideas put forward by staff did anyone suggest killing 311. The rest suggested exploiting and expanding the service online and as a way to improve work internally and even library services.
So as 2010 draws near, and we approach the one-year anniversary of 311 in February, you might ask yourself why Vancouver has developed a system that it appears too ashamed to promote. Surely it is not because Judy Rogers pressed for it and the NPA city council approved it?
We know that City Hall watchers like Frances Bula and Allen Garr have been dismissive about the 311 innovation, but they do not represent the majority who find it harder to penetrate the outer shell of our city's bureaucracy. It's my hope that Gregor Robertson, Vision Vancouver and Penny Ballem finally act upon getting 311 fully initiated in 2010. And they should properly promote it so that all citizens, including those who speak in all the different tongues of our diverse city, can get the services they deserve.