Another 311 update courtesy of

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


operator standing by
Operators are standing by, and citizens are calling 311

A few weeks ago, provided our readers with a glimpse into the operations of the 311 service in Vancouver. We provided you with some interesting statistics that were never be published through the “normal” channels at City Hall. We’re now pleased to bring you our second quarterly installment of how 311 is working in Vancouver.

As you will note from fellow blogger Frances Bula’s recent posting on 311, the City of Toronto has been very supportive of their 311 program and has been active in encouraging its citizens to use it whenever they can. In contrast, Vancouver’s 311 service has been very cloak and dagger. This is despite the fact the City just contracted Ryan Merkley, Toronto Mayor David Miller’s former political operative and avid Hollyhocker, to run the City’s communications department. One would think he would have been all over this since his arrival on the scene a few months ago. It doesn’t appear so.

If it weren’t for the regular reports on 311, you’d think the City of Vancouver didn’t actually even run a multi-lingual 24/7 service line to help citizens connect to their local government. As many have speculated, the reason the Mayor and his caucus have been so mum regarding 311, is the fact it was initiated by the previous NPA regime – full stop.

In our most recent FOI regarding 311’s operations, we obtained data for the months of December 2009 to February 2010 (link to stats). It’s interesting to note that the Olympics appear to have had very little impact on the overall operations of the service, except to help reduce the amount of time it takes for callers to get an answer. In December it took an average of 75 seconds to speak to a service agent. In February, that time had dropped to only 26 seconds. This is despite the fact there were hundreds of thousands of additional people roaming about the city.

Once again, Engineering had the highest number of calls in February. There over 6,500 people who phoned in with questions about garbage. That was down slightly from 7,800 the previous month. The fewest calls logged were directed to Financial Services at only 31 calls in February.

In total, there were 47,000 “calls offered” in January which was higher than the 38,000 logged the following month. This is significantly higher than the 12,000 or so calls placed last May. As you can see, as each month passes by, the 311 service is getting more and more popular with the citizens of Vancouver.

If you’re wondering why there has been virtually no communications strategy to promote 311, you have good reason to be scratching your head. According to a staff report from June 2009, the 311 program should have already been launched by now:

The introduction of “311” calling in the City will be accompanied by an extensive communications plan beginning in mid September, 2009. This delay after the introduction will ensure that the complex task of integrating new business processes into the Call Centre can be appropriately tested and confirmed before broad information is made available.

The elements of the campaign will include:

  • direct mail to all residents and businesses within the City of Vancouver,
  • creation of a brief video outlining the 311 service, and
  • a media launch event at the 311 Contact Centre.

If Vision’s caucus could reduce the amount of pettiness they’ve demonstrated toward this project and embrace it as their own, perhaps then every citizen would become better informed of how 311 could better connect them to their local government. Stay tuned for more reports on 311 that you never seem to be reading at Council.


I used 311 last month to get in touch with Park staff. They responded and fixed the problem I was calling about in less than 30 minutes.

I'm not really sure it needs a pr campaign, despite the staff suggestions. I can see staff sitting around thinking, "hmmmm? what can we put here as a deliverable? Oh yeah, how about a video, a press conference, and..."

Not sure producing a video is at all useful. Yes, a press release would have been helpful and a piece of mail may or may not have saved me the few precious moments it took me to find the number. All I did to find the number was go to and see that this is how to contact the city now.

Silly to stay mum on it, but almost a non-story.

this Hollyhock crowd must be removed after the next election. A strong disinfectant could be used.

My posting to your previous 311 article is copied below. It is so strange to see you glow on the service without mention of the cost. Add to that the foolish transferring of duties from those who excelled with experience to these new 311 operators who have the most minimal of training and are only following a paint by numbers guide. They then find the person who would have otherwise already answered the phone had the line not been force directed to 311.
It's smoke and mirrors. See last post:

What you fail to report is that several previous department switchboard lines were gradually directed to 311. That's why the numbers grew over time! Not because it's "popular" but because you don't have a choice!! The call count you report is distortion of what was previously handled by the existing departments. Callers for certain departments often complain of delays of as much as 8 minutes. Still happening, I've tried.

Also failed to mention was the exorbitant capital cost of setting up the renovated building and purchasing the equipment required, $20,000,000?(to be confirmed) Next you can prove the promised $5,000,000/yr internal efficiencies. Then why don't you mention that several departments have had staff positions cut to transfer "cost savings" to pay for the new staff at 311. The cost savings have yet to be proven and the cut staff previously performed their duties much more efficiently for certain departments and also had duties other than phone functions, whose services are now sorely missed.
Yes, new staff added, for which HR job postings seem to have excluded hiring any inside applicants. How about the new 311 manager's salaries, $126,000 and $81,000 for answering the phone!?!

Why not report on a 311 service that's been active for a while? City of Edmonton - "Boondoggle" fails to deliver promised savings.

clearly someone at city hall doesn't like progress. I've used this service and just loved it! I especially like using it at 8 pm when I actually need to get a hold of someone. Unlike before when city hall shut down at 4:30.

The Thought of The Day

“Dialing me, Dialing you, ahaa
There is nothing we can do
Dialing me, Dialing you, ahaa
It’s the best I can do”

I too, called 311 the other day!
By the time I was about to dial the second “1” some lady already picked it up. Strange. It felt like she knew I’d call. I think she was expecting my call. Amazing! In a very sexy voice, she read me the menu and then, whispered to me that the problem I called for is already receiving the attention it deserves. Without me even opening my mouth to speak, not a single word. I asked her if she could repeat the menu in French… I am a sucker for foreign accents! She did that.

Then, as I realized later, she asked me for my address “where are you on?” I thought she said “what are you wearing on?” I said to myself “Now, I’m no puritan, but here’s a phone service I could get accustomed to” I told her I was having only my Red Olympic mittens on, but I’ll let her guess where. So, she assumed I live next to the Olympic cauldron.

We made chit chat. Ok, more chit than chat. In the end she asked me if I wanted to be transferred to the City Manager’s office to which I responded cautiously that “I didn’t expect you guys to be able to put me through to the Underworld, plus that would be a long distance call and I'm not paying for that!”
Technology today, mind-boggling! I declined.

So yes, I may say, that was a nice experience. I’ll recommend it to all my friends. 7 out of 10 though… That unexpected transfer request ruined my mood. Otherwise it’s all good. It’s all good!

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

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