311 acknowledgement from Vision City Hall comes as surprise

Post by Mike Klassen in


judy rogers npa 311
We might have to adjust this equation based upon a recent City press release

Well, what a surprise. The City of Vancouver sent out a glowing press release about 311 this week. Say whaaaaa?

Yes, the service condemned by Vision Vancouver while in opposition, yet triumphed by the NPA and former City Manager Judy Rogers as a way to innovate City services, is finally getting a little credit from the stone age bunch running Vision City Hall.

We've been 311 boosters since the first weeks of CityCaucus.com, and a quick search indicates we've discussed 311 in nearly 80 posts since. So the City of Vancouver will have a little catching up to do in order to give as much play to 311 as this blog has.

While other cities across the continent are embracing and promoting 311 services, and third parties are getting on board with iPhone apps to integrate with 311, Vancouver has dragged its heels and stubbornly refused to acknowledge the existence of this service by refusing to promote it. In New York, for example, 311 signs exist everywhere.

In San Francisco, the City has even integrated 311 with Twitter so now you can actually tweet your 311 reports. The website called Governance for Development is cautiously optimistic about what a free tool like Twitter can do for cities.

On paper at least, this already looks like a huge improvement over calling 311 because:

  1. City services can become more transparent: Technically you are able comment on a tweet, and this should be encouraged - although in the San Francisco case it looks like tweets would be private.  With a public tweet, if you request a road to be cleaned up and no one has done it, you can comment back in, and hundreds of others who are following the tweet will see that it has not been done.  This is exactly the kind of transparency that is needed.
  2. Information is instant: You don't have to go to a website, you don't have to call, you don't have to wait in line.  You can get the information instantly on your cell phone or email and if you have a comment to make you can do it right away.
  3. Creation of virtual communities can improve governance: San Francisco is, already a community, but not all residents are able to communicate with each other on issues of mutual interest.  The use of Twitter and Social Networking tools can help strengthen the community by creating additional virtual communities based on interests, and energizing existing networks.  The success of these communities will be helped by the fact that Twitter works well with mobile technology.  Not everyone has a computer but most people have cell phones.
  4. Transparency can lead to improve accountability: If Twitter based service requests take off, we will have increased accountability of public officials. Information will be collected on the services that were requested, and what the city officials did about it.  This could spark increased community involvement, and incentivize public officials to make good on their promises.
  5. Participation can improve governance:  Citizens can be involved in the running of the city.  When you have to chance to do be a participant in the governance process, it makes a difference in how you view the city.  It becomes "your" city, and you take better care of it.  This improves governance.

Other local governments should consider Twitter or similar Web 2.0 tool to help improve transparency, accountability and participation.

For a transparency-challenged government like the one in Vancouver, you can see the immediate impact an innovation like this could have.

One of the reasons I feel compelled to criticize Vision Vancouver is the sheer lack of good ideas they bring forward. We're a city with great future prospects if we're prepared to embrace opportunity and innovation. Under this government we're stuck in the 20th Century way of dealing with issues.

In the weeks to come leading up to the 2011 election, you're going to see many more ideas put forward on CityCaucus.com about ways to improve governance and city services, and move Vancouver forward. While some of the proposals may be limited by practicalities, sending up trial balloons in a venue like this allows the public to start weighing in.

Here below is the City's press release about 311 receiving its one-millionth call...

City’s 3-1-1 service takes one millionth call

Have you ever called the City of Vancouver’s 311 service to report a pothole, find out about earthquake preparedness workshops or file a noise complaint?

If so, you can count yourself amongst the one million callers assisted by the 311 team since the public service began two years ago.

A request for a building inspection became the one millionth call to the City’s contact centre on Tuesday and was taken by a 311 staff member who has answered more than 35,000 calls in her time with the team.

Since introducing 311, the Centre has created 80 local jobs and expanded to offer service to the public between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., seven days a week.

311 is currently averaging 45,000 enquiries per month and up to 350 calls per hour during peak times.

Vancouverites are calling about everything from property tax bills and permits, reports of missed garbage pick up, traffic and street lights out, pothole repair requests and sewer back up reports, to building inspection requests, noise concerns and payments for licenses and other services.

When the 311 staff cannot deal directly with a request, callers are connected to the right City staff and departments.

City 3-1-1 staff also have access to interpreters in 180 languages. Last year, 16 different languages were used to assist 576 calls. So far this year, 101 callers have requested service in nine different languages.

For more information on the City of Vancouver 311 service, visit Vancouver 3-1-1

To reach a 311 citizen service representative, just dial 3-1-1 within Vancouver city boundaries or 604.873.7000 outside the city.


- post by Mike. Follow @MikeKlassen on Twitter. To check out San Francisco's 311 Twitter service see @sf311.


I am told you can email your 311 items to info@vancouver.ca. Haven't tried it yet.

Rather than Twitter, our business association has started to use SeeClickFix as a reporting platform for public realm issues. I have almost got city staff convinced to use email auto alerts rather than require me to call in to 311 with each issue. Many of these applications are in use across the US, they are cheap, they are location based and they are proven. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Anything to removed the multiple layers of bureaucracy to get a pothole repaired would be welcome. We have some new faces at the top of the engineering department which gives me cause for hope.

We were told that the email address for 311 is:

Haven't had to try it yet but we've had quicker response to things like sinkholes on our street than we did before the phone system came into being.

Don't have to wade through number after number.

No one can call this anything but an enormous waste of money. They say 80 jobs were "created"? They don't say anything about all the jobs that were cut from the previous departments, do they?!?!

Average 30 days per month. 15 hours per day and looking at a simplified 7.5 hr day for 40 people each shift times 2 shifts. (anyone who cares to provide the actual numbers, please do so but whatever they are this still adds up) equals 1,080,000 minutes divided by 45000 calls per month equals 24 minutes per call.

Over $5,000,000 in yearly salary alone, and also add multi-millions spent for the building.

At almost 24 minutes of salaried time per call the gut wrenching unavoidably obvious reality is... that these employees are not servicing anyone for much of their shifts. It is an incredibly inefficient use of funding.
I challenge anyone to argue differently. Using the reported numbers you can only guess what they do in between calls. Hey Robertson, who's the fargin hack?

I'm not a Vision fan, nor am I an NPA fan.
Could you please elaborate more about why 311 is not a good service in your opinion.

I could ever get through to anybody before when I tried to reach the City.

I've now been hearing that reaching the City through 311 is just as inefficient.

I wonder why?

What keeps the City from following through on problems?

To Chris

No way to hide this. How do you think they pay for 80 employees? The "brilliant" minds upstairs forecast "savings" by cutting staff and jobs from various departments, and by smoke and mirrors, convince council that taking phone duties away and transferring all these phone lines to 311 that there'll then be less interruption to regular staff so they can be more efficient. The trouble lies in 311 staff not being front line savvy. They're only phone operators.

Bottom line, to answer your question. Front line staff have been cut. 311 staff have been increased. They now announce that 311 is so "successful". Well.... open the floodgates. Everyone and there dog now calls the city and expects 311 to save the day. (311 staff do help, don't get me wrong) But, if you take money away from paying for seasoned, knowledgeable, front line service staff, you can only expect slower service because you're not going to get a phone operator to patch no street. Phone operators aren't going to hop onto a truck to fix a street light. They don't put out fires either or stop your neighbour from building a meth lab.

Analysis. When calling 311 now, does the operator put you in touch with your intended target immediately? No. Are you surprised? It's interference.
It's an added layer obstructing prior quicker access to knowledgeable hands on staff.

311 staff are trained to refuse a direct connection to your target, even if you know exactly who you wished to speak with. In many cases, regardless of how impossible it would be for a 311 staffer to help you, they'll insist on getting your name, the reason for the call, the basic direction you are looking for, and when they finally understand that you don't have a "phone operator situation" only then will they dial forward to the real front line staff.

They will then first tell the whole song and dance to the real staffer and then ask if they can put the call through,(see the waste of time), if they get the okay,(like we would refuse?) then they'll tell the caller, "hi, we've got Penny on the line, go ahead". Do you now get the idea?

Had they limited the staff to maintaining a switchboard effort only, then maybe you would have something to brag about. Here, you've got a boondoggle.

sorry, I call the city at least 10-15 times a week for one thing or another. I still have the option of calling the person directly. Sometimes I don't know who is responsible for what...311 does indeed put me through if I know who I need to talk to. For the average citizen that gets lost in the endless list of departments - 311 is a huge time saver and far less street to boot.

I have a feeling the Jughead may have a union axe to grind.

From almost one year ago. Right here, on City Caucus. It seems like it was yesterday. I still wouldn't change a thing...


The Thought of The Evening

“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.

Glissando Remmy | April 5, 2010 7:18 PM | Reply


BTW. For me, this service would work only if ALL City's Managerial Staff, Mayor and Councillors would answer the phones one day per month...all proceeds going to my charity 'Up Yours on The Telephone Pole' 50 meters Climb.

IMHO, what this 311 service actually did to the City's employees, is exactly what the self check-outs did to the employees of the Canadian Tire stores, Canadian Superstores, Safeway's or the IKEA stores, where you the shopper, are now the 'outsourced' workforce. That question 'Plastic or Paper?' it's lost forever in the Canadian folklore. If this trend catches, who's to say that one year from now, you'd not go and pour your own wine in one litre bottles down at your local Liquor Store, or perform your own lap dance in front of a mirror in one of those horrible, horrible Nudie Bars , or fill up your own gas tank with Regular 87...oh, wait, you already do that and strangely it costs more and more every single time. Go figure!

I'm just saying, this 311 service puzzles me. But hey, as long as the City can save half a million dollars per year to pay for the two top charlatans, I'm good.
I'm all for Gregor's Green Job$$$$! Two down, 19,998 to go.


Nice try. You are completely off base. Comments against 311 have nothing to do with any union issues. But now that you've brought it up, did you know that the 311 staff are CUPE? Did you know that there were staff who's positions were cut who had applied to work at 311 but were denied the opportunity. Just makes too much sense to take in fully trained existing staff, huh Robertson?

I phone 311 as well and the comment that they block and shield sticks. When on calls they do perform well though and the public does deserve easy access to city services but biggest problem is the enormous cost of providing this "Platinum" plated service. Over $5,000,000 in salaries, (plus millions in capital costs) to provide an effective cost average per call of 24 minutes. That's no more than 19 calls per staffer if guessing on a 7.5 hour shift according to their numbers. Would you like to challenge this?

"...pour your own wine in one litre bottles down at your local Liquor Store, or perform your own lap dance..."

I remember the late, great and increasingly outraged Jackie Gleason doing a hatchet job on Starbucks;

"You pay two bucks fifty for a fifty cent coffee, you get to be your own janitor AND THEY WANT A GRATUITY?!!!"

A metaphor of our times.

WARNING. I tried to find this on YouTube and spent an hour watching him on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast.

Add to that list of self checkout stores...the Home Depot chain. Maybe, in the future they will let you cut your own keys!
Your 311 'phone conversation' made my day. :-)
And this:
"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!” LMAO

...was the best description of Ballem's Office I've read in print in this city! Thanks for that.

according to Darcy Wilson, 311 Call Center Manager:

311 received their 1 millionth call in March 2011.

There are 65 customer service staff - not 80 to cover 730 shifts (7am - 10pm... 365 days a year) That puts 11 staff per shift in the 311 centre not factoring in holiday coverage and breaks.

So, let's assume there are 10 bodies in seats on any given shift at any given time. Let's take 45,000 monthly calls/2 shifts/30 days/10 staff.

That is 75 calls per shift per operator. Over an 8 hour day that is 9.375 calls an hour. 6.4 minutes per call.

There is two ways of looking at this... how many minutes per call for city time and how many minute a resident spent hunting through the 550 city phone numbers in the blue pages to report a problem. Who's time is more valuable - staff or the taxpayer.

Given the lack of promotion of 311, I think 45,000 a month is pretty good. Let's see what happens 6 months from now after some long overdue publicity and property tax season.

Jughead - next time do you homework and then try to tell me you don't have an agenda.

city website has published info@vancouver.ca as the 311 email address.


There's no agenda. They have stated creating 80 FTE jobs and the service is costing an average of around $10 per call. They perform no other duties when not taking calls. Your calculation is flawed and I've already stated that mine were based on extrapolation. Even with your flawed numbers, it's obvious that they can't be spending 6 minutes or even my calculated 20 minutes per call. What do they do there with so much help? 65 service staff? So, it seems that they may have 15 exempt "managers" then? Typical of the city to be top heavy but here even more so. A manager for every four or so people. We'll be watching for Penny to be targeting this overstaffed group for her next cuts.

Final post on this wasteful program.

Sharon - here's your homework. These are your numbers:

6.4 minutes x 45000 calls x 12 months divided by FTE 2000hrs x 60m equals 28.8 FTE

So, HEY PENNY, you can easily cut 50 jobs here!!!!!!!

Read the article and the news release...
80 80 80 80,... count them 80 jobs created!

Call this Darcy yourself and ask how many individuals are connected to 311.
65 service reps as you so cleverly, and simply extract from a web link that hides
15 PLUS others doing what? (managers)
equals 80 FTE

Doesn't matter. They are only effective when the phone rings. They do NOTHING else otherwise. All for over $5,000,000 per year.


I have been told your information is correct....I know someone that was hired..

I talked to Darcy myself and that is the data he provided. Use 311 and ask him. Perhaps there is management, perhaps they are ramping up for more call volume for tax season (I know there is a huge spike in volume when everyone gets their tax notice).

I can only go by facts, not preliminary planning or rumour.

Bottom line - 311 is not perfect but it is a hell of a lot better than the old way and other cities across the country have proved it so.

Now if we can make 311 accessible from a mobile phone - we are rocking.

meant to say accessible from a mobile app.

Check out BCWineLover.com!

Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement