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Is 3-1-1 A Joke In Your Town?


Philly 3-1-1 logoPhiladelphia’s city government doesn’t have the best reputation in providing services. Actually, that’s a gigantic understatement. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has had a positive experience dealing with our city government in the 14-plus years I’ve lived here. Finding the right department and contact person is, at times, a Sisyphean task.

And waiting for a return callfrom a local city employee can take years.

In order to respond to the complaints about this inefficient spider web, the city government lastyear instituted Philly311, a hotline intended to streamline the process of finding city information.

By calling 311, users will have the opportunity to interact with an operator who can provide information about whom to contact for a solution to a problem, if they don’t already know the answer.It sounds good. But many ideas from the Philly city government sound good: they almost never work.

I decided to try Philly311 out for myself. I’ve always had a problem with recycling. My wife and I have a tiny front lawn in front of our house that we have turned into a garden. Every week, we have to pull out weeds and trim different plants. We place the remains into garbage bags and into the recycling bin. However, they never get picked up. We’ve looked online and have never been able to figure out what to do. I called 3-1-1 on a Tuesday night a little after 6:30 p.m., as the website says the phone line is open 24 hours a day.

It took about 10 rings until a voice prompt of Mayor Michael Nutter was heard, with a recording about all Philly 311 has to offer. This tape played for about a minute before it rebooted. I then heard Mayor Nutter’s distinctive nasal twang again. But, after another minute, a live operator finally picked up the phone. I told her about my question. And she told me the answer: I could cut the weeds and shrubbery into small pieces that could fit into a garbage bag and place them in the trash, as the only items recycled in the city are plastic, paper, cardboard and aluminum.

And, if I was unable to fit these into individual garbage bags, I could drop these off at a local sanitation site.I then asked her where the local sanitation site was. She asked me my address and placed me on hold. Less than a minute later, she picked the line back up and told me where the nearest location was. All in all, I think this is a good start for the system. And it’s a good thing for the city. Our government is a frustrating mess. Philly311 could help clean it up.