NYC meets BGSU Factline

In last month’s Wired Magazine, I found an interesting article about a service in NYC called 311. It works like the BGSU Factline, from what I can tell, but with an added bonus: the government learns what people are asking about, and makes decisions based on the public’s concerns, if necessary. It’s like Factline for “the real world.”

“The city offers a tremendous number of services,” says Gino Menchini, commissioner of information technology and telecommunications and the director of 311. “But historically no one knew how to get to them. You’re flipping through 20 pages in the phone book, trying to find the hotline you’re looking for or figure out which department handles your issue. Fifteen percent of the calls coming in to older numbers didn’t belong there.”

Now all those questions funnel into a single source. Is tonight’s Central Park concert canceled due to rain? Call 311. Looking for the nearest day care center? Call 311. Is alternate-side parking in effect? Call 311. “So if someone calls in to report a homeless encampment, that call gets routed to the police department’s quality-of-life division,” Menchini says. “If someone wants to help the homeless, the call gets routed to the Department of Homeless Services.”

Can you imagine the problems you could solve without flipping through the Yellow Pages or the Government listings or searching online for the city’s obscure waste management website? How about when you first move somewhere, like we did in March? If Toledo had a 311, we could have asked such questions as:

Does Toledo charge for trash pickup?
When is trash pickup in our neighborhood?
Where is the nearest [insert necessity here]?

And so forth. It’s an interesting concept, especially for such a large and sometimes impersonal city as New York, to have a real, live operator on call to take questions and concerns and comments from city dwellers.

Hopefully, other cities will take their cue from New York and launch 311 programs of their own. It’s a brilliantly simple idea, and one that appears to be working for one of the largest metropolises (metropol─ôs?). If it works for them, certainly it would work for us.