Vision's worst kept secret is 311

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


The numbers don't lie – 311 is increasingly popular with Vancouverites

We know that Vision Vancouver doesn't like transparency, but does it explain why they're keeping Vancouver's 311 service a secret?

During the last term of Vancouver council, the previous NPA government was scolded by the opposition Vision/COPE politicians for establishing a new 311 service. If you’re not familiar with 311, it’s a 24/7 non-emergency line that helps connect you with city services whenever you need them. You can apply for permits, get updates on a query and report issues to the city such as clogged drains or a downed tree. Vancouver is currently the only city in the Metro region to have such a service.

We’ve written extensively about 311 here on over the last 18 months. In fact, we’re the only people talking about this popular service which seems to be gaining favour with Vancouverites. Our past FOIs on 311 have helped to detail for our readers how many people have been using the service and which departments are getting the most call volume. In August ’10, 311 fielded over 47,000 calls on a variety of topics. Call volume was as high as 53,721 in June.

So why has Vision Vancouver not embraced 311? Why have they chosen to keep this service under wraps while so many other cities like New York, Calgary and Winnipeg have embraced it? Could it be that a bit of partisan politics is at play? After all, 311 is a legacy project of former Mayor Sam Sullivan and we all know that Mayor Gregor and his caucus don't have Sam on their Christmas card list.

Perhaps in these days of tight budgets the City simply doesn’t have the funds to promote 311? Really? Since they’ve taken power, Vision had no problem spending $250,000 on a communications plan for the Burrard Bridge bike lane trial. How about the $200,000 for the Hornby Bike lane communications plan? Our FOIs also revealed Vision recently spent $1000 per day on PR consultants and $60K on two untendered contracts for communication advice regarding the Olympic Village. So clearly the fact they have yet to officially launch or heavily promote the 311 service has absolutely nothing to do with a lack of funds.

It’s a shame that politics and the public service at Vancouver City Hall have become so highly partisan. As a result, a multi-lingual service aimed at connecting people from all walks of life to their city hall barely rates a mention from Hizzoner. The only evidence that we could find of Gregor ever mentioning 311 was in a tweet he sent out to a constituent. Now compare that to New York where you see the numbers 3-1-1 plastered all over the city, including most of their taxi fleet.

Here are some of the latest stats coming out of our most recent FOI regarding Vancouver's 311 program. It's more evidence that this service is catching on despite Vision's unwillingness to promote it.

- post by Daniel


I point you to Click contact. The first number? 311?

It's on my recycling flyer. It's on the community meeting notice I got. I see it everywhere.

Do you want them to have planes flying around with 311?

Ryan, you might be the first person to suggest that the city has done an adequate job of promoting 311.

Why don't you take a look at NYC's homepage and see how they promote 311. Vancouver could learn a lesson or two.

They're clearly not afraid to promote it to their citizens. It's a service that local politicians and NYC residents are quite proud of and don't bury a click away.

As for planes flying around...naaaaaah! Not environmentally friendly enough.

So, if they move the (bolded, I might add) 3-1-1 from the /contacts page to the home page, would that do? does have an interesting online 311 feature; is that what CityCaucus is suggesting?

I haven't been on the ground there, so I don't know if 311 is better promoted offline in NY. However, there are direct email addresses for some pretty key city staff directly available from the different department pages, which I've always thought was fairly open... (whether or not they respond, I suppose, is another thing). City of Vancouver's services page also prominently references 311, so I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that it's buried.

I'm no starry-eyed vision fan (I voted for Ladner) but I think that Ryan has a point here...

Who are you kidding. If Vision had come up with idea for 311 you would be hearing about it everywhere. Ryan is just blowing smoke to defend his vision pals. Unless you are really looking for it 311 is not prominently featured anywhere. Have they even issued a news release announcing the service?

If vision had come up with the idea the number would have been 666

and so it goes Alex J...

'vision pals' everywhere you go. so scary!

From an insider aspect 311 creates another layer of people you have to go through. 311 has had to return calls back to departments because they do not know how to handle them, where before the branches dealt with calls efficiently.

Why do the police not use 311 when they call?

1. 911 is used by police to handle really emergency and matters of life and death. 311 can free up the lines and time for 911 to really take on emergency and police related issues.
2. Representatives at 311 will accept the call and provide answers and services right on the spot if information is available. If it requires departmental or specialists' attention, the representative will talk to someone in the department about the issue and connect the caller to that person. There is always a person for the citizen to talk to and not to any computer or answering machine. 311 is not a phone directory nor is it a receptionist. It is a front line customer service with a "warm contact" for every caller.
3. It is a management tool able to track down citizens concern. Calgary analyzed the geographical and demographical data collected as important reference to increase efficency, effectiveness and pro-active service program for citizen in specific area and specific time of the year. They have recently used the data to help effectively allocate resources to better reflect citizens need.
4. 311 is a community communication and citizen service department. Showing the number on the city website is not enough. It is not only about the number. The city should actively provide citizen with knowledge as to what 311 can do for them. Showing the product name without any information on what the product is about and how clients can benefit from the product is no promotion at all.

I had respected a lot of what this website has done previously to raise awareness towards what has been an extremely poor performance from the most recent mayor and council. However this non-story crosses the line in terms of inflammatory rhetoric towards what is essentially a non-issue (the sinister plot appearing to be the current location of the 3-1-1 information on the Contacts page as opposed to the home page of the website). Correct me if I am wrong but this is not a political issue, just an observation that some parties may wish to bring to the attention of the City's IT Department. As an attempt to smear the politicos at City Hall (who I do not in any way admire or defend normally) this backfires, and makes the author of the piece appear really small. I hope City Caucus considers the issues they address more carefully in future.

Douglas you are a lone wolf. Anybody who has ever worked at city hall or been associated with it knows the politics behind 311. Gregor and his gang have no interest in promoting it, mentioning it or giving the previous council credit for it. I'm not sure how often you actually read this blog? but it would appear you are a bit out of touch on a this issue.

I will settle for being a lone wolf and stick to my guns on this one. I have read the blog quite regularly, as well as worked in development and been involved with the city on various levels for over 20 years. Over those years I have seen many of the shortcomings of both council and the rank and file. As misinformed as I appear to be to you, Yet somehow I managed to find the 3-1-1 # under contacts the first time - exactly where I would expect to find it. This puts a lie to the statement made by the writer that somehow Vision is keeping 3-1-1 a secret (paragraph 1) or otherwise under wraps (paragraph 4), and as such reveals more about the writer than the target.

This is a small issue, and it appears to be small minded to politicize it. I understand politicizing issues is in many ways the intent of the site. However, I stand the first poster, Ryan, on this one.

Moreover, it is my contention that, from the fourth paragraph on, the writer is merely postulating hypothetical questions in an effort to discredit the mayor and council. Critics lose their effect when they cease being reasoned and reasonable and instead employ intellectual dishonesty while picking away at the minutiea. A simple comment (i.e. "Wouldn't 3-1-1 work better if moved from 'Contacts' to the 'Homepage'") would suffice.

Anti-Vision folks can jump all over me for the comments, but this piece does not reveal any sinister anti-3-1-1- plot concocted by the mayor or council. It only represents a writer's attempt to take a swing at council for the sake of it. The website, which by the way I liked in the past for its many attempts to hold officials to account, is so much the weaker for it.

Me sniffs a Vision troll in our midst ...hmmmm, now who could it be? Vail jabs against "the writer of this piece". Statements about how he "used to like this blog". Sounds a slight bit fishy to me. Could Doug be vision supporter who is worried this could turn into yet another crappy story for them? I'm left to wonder, but will probably never know.

vision troll lol

you guys are too much...

Perhaps the 'Vision' troll is actually just a critically-minded citizen by the name of Douglas Millar (rather like it says at the bottom of the post - coincidentally enough).

If it helps allay your fears though - let me add

a) I am not a 'Vision Troll', nor am I a Vision supporter. I just do not support rhetorical, unsubstantiated attack journalism, petty politicizing lacking perspective, or intellectual laziness regardless of its political stripe

b) I predict that this will not turn out to be a crappy story for Vision. Unless and until we become the only major city not to declare' 3-1-1 Day' or hold our own '3-1-1- Pride Parade', there is hardly a story there

c) that fishy smell may just be emanating from your refrigerator - best check it out.


speaking of trolling

I have been in 3 different meetings with in the last 18 months where an update of 311 was lame - at best from engineering staff. Formal launch and education program has been discussed but always delayed (reasons were always vague). If they can have an education campaign for bike lanes, don't you think a huge program that is designed to save millions of dollars and endless time would be worth teaching people about. Not everyone knows how to search a website for instructions or phone numbers. Not everyone knows there is an alternative to the maze of departments and phone numbers in the white pages.

The new website is a joke in terms of easy navigation to find contact information but that is another conversation entirely.


There are three seperate links to 'contact us' on the home page, including one at the very top next to the search bar. How much clearer or direct could it be?

311 was supposed to be done at no cost. The Business Units were to provide the equvalent staff funds that they used in answering the telephone inquiries. What was found was 311 did not provide the service described and departments had to reinstate positions.

Also 311 did not use many employees from those areas, they were mostly new hires who lacked experiance in the City and basically worked off of scripts. The staff in the units had to look for new jobs elsewhere.

Also when a problem could be resolved with a quick 1 minute phone call, now involve another layer.

The mandate of the City is to provide good service to the citizens of Vancouver.

Julia you are bang on. Vision promised they would have a robust communications plan to educate people on the benefits of 311. But nothing came of it. I agree with you that this should be a higher priority than spending money promoting bike lanes. I'm sure douglas will disagree, but I think he's out to lunch.

This sure has the smell of a union rep writing this comment.

Funny how 311 has worked so well in almost every other city it's been implemented except Vancouver. Are we that unique that it can't work money and save costs here too? I think its the unions that just don't like doing business diffently. That's it.

This is interesting. There are several people (boohoo, Ryan and myself) who seem to believe that the 3-1-1 service, being the first thing seen on the contacts page, is fairly clear (although I do agree with anyone promoting placing the 3-1-1 contact directly onto the Homepage).

If I understand the crux of the comments against myself and the aforementioned others, they bemoan the lack of public education sessions yet held about the 3-1-1 service. However, the statistical #'s borne out by the writer's piece suggest the service is increasingly being used the way it is currently being promoted.

Perhaps members of the public, even those as out to lunch as myself, are actually able to figure it out as they get to the contact page , and are using 3-1-1 accordingly. If the service is being increasingly utilized as it was intended, wouldn't public $ earmarked for promotion and public education be better wasted somewhere else.

I merely take to task the writer's story angle, that somehow the 3-1-1 service is being kept under wraps. It is not, and more and more people are sufficiently navigating it, as borne out in City Caucuses own statistics. It is just not being promoted the way some people would like. I cite the last line in the piece referring to the latest stats:

It's more evidence that this service is catching on despite Vision's unwillingness to promote it.

If people can get the hang of something, whether it be using 3-1-1 or composting, reycling, or what have you, without more public $ being thrown at promoting it, isn't that a good thing? If the suggestion is 3-1-1 is catching on, shouldn't there be less public $ spent on this and other (admittedly more partisan) initiatives, not more?

Perhaps city staff (and this is where I may be attacked as a 'Vision troll') also accessed the statistics obtained by the writer, and determined that 3-1-1 was working well enough the way it was implemented that we taxpayers could be spared the expense of an expensive promotion. Even if not (and I may be giving them too much credit), beyond repeating the 3-1-1 information on the city's home page, where's the actual problem?

all it says is, 'can't find what you are looking for, search the city website or call 311'

It was designed to be a lot more than 'General Inquiries'
why don't they explain how it works?

Check out!

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