Boston’s the center to a $360 billion local economy, home to more than 700,000 daily workers and as many residents – and also a city where business and civic leaders know seemingly little things like clean streets and parks and rapidly repaired municipal problems have a huge impact.
For a quarter century, (617) 635-4500 has been the number to call to reach City Hall agents, 24 hours a day, who will record complaints about broken streetlights, overflowing trash cans, potholes, graffiti, vandalism, and everything else in the city’s purview to fix.
Starting Tuesday, however, Boston’s finally joined hundreds of other cities with a complaint number that’s much easier to remember: 311.
“You’re going to see it promoted all over the city of Boston,’’ Mayor Martin J. Walsh said at an event at District Hall unveiling the new service. “We're going to be putting it on billboards.’’
It’s not just a new landline and wireless phone number, however, but also an iPhone and Android app that has far more complaint categories than the old ‘Citizens Connect’ service and other features like follow-up customer satisfaction surveys to help measure how well City Hall is responding.
If you think of the city of Boston as a customer-facing business, it puts up some pretty huge numbers. Since January 1, according to Niall Murphy, director of the Mayor’s Hotline for the city, 266,854 people have called, emailed or texted about problems, or an average of 8,339 a week. That includes a burst of 110,000 during the four worst weeks of snow in January and February.
Besides technological issues, one of the big concerns that dragged out the process of adding a 311 service in Boston was city officials needing to staff up their call center because they expect they will get dramatically more numbers once people just have to remember three digits to call, not 10.
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Walsh said he had always assumed most hotline calls came from Dorchester, Hyde Park, Mattapan, and Roxbury, lower-income areas of the city with generally higher violent crime rates than Boston as a whole, but was surprised to learn that “the real high call volumes” came from the affluent, upscale Beacon Hill, Back Bay, and South End. Walsh said he thinks a shorter, easier to remember way of reaching City Hall -- 311 -- should make it easier for people throughout the city to connect about complaints and concerns they have.
“This is going to change the volume where, across the board,’’ Walsh said, “people in [all] neighborhoods will be calling in because it's just simply calling ‘311.’ ’’