Residents have a new non-emergency outlet for questions and concerns through a 24-hour service addressing neighborhood issues.
Tired of the "giant pothole" near ShopRite, Snyder Avenue and Swanson Street, Lisa Brady of 13th and Tasker streets dialed 311 from her cellphone to access Philadelphia's non-emergency line for the first time about two weeks ago.
"I reported that hole years and years ago to the previous administration and nothing was ever done," she said.
After hearing about the fresh service on the news, she remembered the three-digit number and decided to give it a try to report the potholes and broken train tracks near her grocery store. When the operator requested an exact address, Brady asked if the agent could call the store, she said.
"She called ShopRite," she said of the operator. "Over and beyond what I ever expected."
Brady received a confirmation number, but has yet to follow up.
Launched on Dec. 31, Philadelphia has joined many other cities including Baltimore, Chicago and Houston that have added a non-emergency 311 line. While the telephone number is accessible 24/7, the call center is also available during normal business hours at City Hall's Room 167.
"Cities like Houston, Chicago and Baltimore have been doing it for quite some time," said Councilman-at-large Jim Kenney, who headed the project and visited other cities that utilized the service. "Back in '06, I recognized that this might be something good for Philadelphia."
While a resolution was instituted in October 2006, representatives from Baltimore and DeKalb County, Ga., spoke on their respective services prior to a December City Council meeting. Kenney said an ordinance was not necessary because the new administration agreed that it was a priority.
"It moved relatively quickly based on when we started talking about it," he said.
With a $2 million annual allotment to both Philly 311 and PhillyStat, the service tracking aspect, according to the fiscal year '09 budget, the investment will make the government more effective and efficient, Kenney said. Also, there was no increase in employment as current agents were transferred to the 311 call center from other departments, Kenney said.
"It's really a management tool that will save money as opposed to wasting it," he said, adding that the city will start to see its benefits in six months to a year.
Baltimore was the first city to implement a 311 number on Oct. 2, 1996 where it received one-third of the 911 calls before the FCC designated the number for non-emergency calls a year later, according to "3-1-1 for Philly," a report released by Kenney in April '07. At first, Baltimore's 311 was only designated for non-emergency police calls before city service calls were added in March 2002, said Lisa Allen, call center director of Baltimore's 311 system, at a City Council meeting in December '06.
The city did not return calls concerning their number prior to press time.
Although 911 is still in place for emergencies, the new line can take the load off by handling questions regarding directory assistance, information services, service requests, updates on special events and reporting non emergencies such as noise complaints and abandoned cars. Since June, the performance management team has been compiling information from all city departments into the database, which will be updated to keep its information current.