Toronto

Toronto's 311 service needs a fix

Torontonians who dial 311 are usually hoping for help with a problem – but an audit of the service suggests the line itself needs a fix.

Torontonians who dial 311 are usually hoping for help with a problem – but an audit of the service suggests the line itself needs a fix.

Operators at the 24-hour line are supposed to field public inquiries and improve accessibility to non-emergency services, but 21 per cent of calls are never answered at all.

The report from Jeffrey Griffiths, the city's auditor general, points to high operator absenteeism as one reason the line is struggling. He also notes that staff performance is not uniform. 

Call logs from March show that one operator answered 98 calls while another answered only 21.

'People get really frustrated'

Councillor Josh Matlow says he and his colleagues at City Hall find it easier to order a pizza than to get basic service from the help line.

People living in the Beaches—East York area, or Ward 32, make the most 311 calls per capita, and constituents have complained to their councillor, Mary-Margaret McMahon, citing long wait times and inaccurate information.

"We're way behind other cities and that's not a good place to be," said McMahon.

Citizens call about everything from ordering a new recycling bin to reporting graffiti.

"That's your front line for helping people in the city and if it's not working then that's a problem and people get really frustrated," she said, adding that the two-year-old line is still experiencing growing pains. 

Griffiths points out that other cites such as New York, San Francisco and Ottawa answer more calls with fewer staff than Toronto. He recommends the city address chronic absenteeism and ensure workers take more calls.

The city spent nearly $40 million to implement the 311 system and now spends nearly $20 million annually to operate it. Most calls are related to garbage collection and pothole repair.

In addition to the phone number, the city also provides a range of online services, including self-service requests.

The auditor's report will be presented to the city's audit committee next week.

With files from the Canadian Press

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