Montreal

With 311 wait-times and complaints on rise, Montreal mayor says city will add staff

This year, the number of complaints about the service rose sharply and so did the wait-times, which are estimated at more than seven minutes on average.

Frustrations mount even though centralization of 311 service was meant to improve efficiency

Oksana Dmytriw has made multiple calls to 311 in the past several months about her recycling not getting picked up, but never got through to a representative. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

Oksana Dmytriw prides herself on her independence. She's lived in her Villeray home for decades, and takes care of the property herself.

Last fall, the garbage and recycling schedule in her neighbourhood was changed. Her recycling, she said, was often not picked up, forcing her to lug it back into her house.

"I walk with a cane. I cannot be dragging my garbage or my recycling back into the house and there's a step to go up to the house, so it's not easy for me," said Dmytriw, who is in her 60s.

Her frustration grew when she tried contacting the city about the problem. Dmytriw says she called 311, the city's call centre, multiple times but never got through to a representative. She hung up after waiting for a half-hour. 

She also emailed the 311 service twice, she says, but only received automated replies and no follow-ups.

Dmytriw is among several Montrealers voicing complaints about the 311 service, which Mayor Valérie Plante has vaunted as a source of information about municipal services. 

Centralization 'catastrophic,' says opposition

According to data released by the city, the number of complaints about the service rose sharply this year as did wait-times, which were estimated at more than seven minutes on average.

Figures obtained by the Journal de Montréal indicate that since the beginning of the year, city staff only answer 16 per cent of calls within 100 seconds; down from 52 per cent in 2017.

'We need to improve the system,' Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said in response to complaints about the 311 service. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

City officials overhauled the 311 service last year, reassigning employees from six boroughs to the call centre: Ville-Marie, Villeray-St-Michel-Parc-Extension, Verdun, Montréal-Nord, Ahuntsic-Cartierville and Pierrefond-Roxboro. 

This centralization was intended to reduce costs and increase efficiency. But 311 performance in those boroughs was the worst, according to the figures obtained by the Journal.

Opposition leader Lionel Perez blamed the delays on Projet Montréal's decision to centralize 311 services, saying the results have been "catastrophic." 

"The mayor has been non-stop telling people to call 311 — for flooding, for work sites — yet she's not giving the necessary results and resources accordingly," Perez said Tuesday at City Hall.

In a statement, Plante's staff said the centralization process was begun under the previous administration, of which Perez was a part.

The city acknowledged there has been an 11.6-per cent increase in the number of 311 calls so far this year, well above the average increase of three per cent. Officials attributed the jump to an unusually harsh winter.

"More and more people are using the 311. It's better known, it's better integrated, which is a great thing. But we need to improve the system," Plante told reporters earlier this week.

She said the city will be adding 15 employees to its 311 service to deal with the heightened demand.

'It's impossible to get through'

Dmytriw says she eventually grew so frustrated with the lack of response from 311 that she took an Uber to her borough's administrative office, which is five kilometres from her home and a tricky commute by public transit.

A representative gave her a reference number for the recycling problem, and told her many more people had complained about 311. 

"I'm paying taxes, heavy taxes, and I'd like to know where my money is going," Dmytriw said.

"This is something basic that has to be done and it's not getting done. I'm not asking for anything extra. I'm just asking for the basics."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Verity Stevenson is a reporter with CBC in Montreal. She has previously worked for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star in Toronto, and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John.

With files from Simon Nakonechny, Valeria Cori-Manocchio and Claire Loewen

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