Angry Phone User

The 411 on Toronto's New 311 Info Hotline

Toronto's bureaucracy is now easier to handle thanks to yesterday's 311 launch. In theory, I'll no longer feel like this guy looks after trying to get info from the City of Toronto.

Instead of navigating through the city's approximately 300 phone numbers, we now only need to remember one.

"311 provides better access to government for citizens...It simplifies and improves the process of connecting with us," says Rob Andrusevich, a city spokesperson.

My first thought bubble read something like this: "Isn't this partly what we're paying city councilors and their staff to do?"

I asked Karen Sun what she thinks. She's running for city council next year, potentially in Trinity-Spadina. She says navigating the city's departments and referring you to the right one is a role city councilors take on, but it shouldn't be the main one.

"Referrals are an easy way to connect with constituents. Advocacy is the more important and harder job," says Sun.

She also notes that 311 might also be a less intimidating call for some to make than connecting with your councilor's office. It's definitely more accessible. 311 is available in 180 languages.

I tested the new hotline in the English language. All of my questions were answered. But more importantly, I wasn't diverted to another department.

311 took six years to get here but it's a huge improvement from Access Toronto. This was the city's previous information hotline, where your request was usually transferred a few times to different people or departments or to someone's voicemail. If you have a broken pothole to report for example, 311 takes the info and connects to the proper department for you. You get a tracking number to check the status of your request.

But cell phone users beware. "Your number could not be completed as dialed" was the message I got. It worked when I called from a landline. The 311 representative I spoke to says she's heard a couple of complaints. She says cell phone providers probably haven't recognized the number yet since it's so new.

311 Toronto services will also be offered on the web later this year.

Photo by denmar


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