City pushes 311 web system

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Maspeth residents frustrated with dialing 311 got their information directly from the source last week.

At the bequest of City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), representatives from the city’s non-emergency information service and a handful of the municipal agencies it frequently contacts on behalf of callers met neighborhood residents at Kowalinski Post, at 61-57 Maspeth Ave.

In 2003 the city launched 311, which offers callers daily information, such as alternate side parking rules and school closings as well as taking complaints, categorizing them and filing them with the proper agency.

Not one hand was left down when 311 spokesman Addae Oliver asked the 20 or so in attendance who had filed a complaint with the service before, and with that segue in place he proceeded with his pitch to get callers to switch over to using the service’s website, which was launched in 2009.

“If you would prefer to call, that’s fine. Just keep in mind the option is available,” he said, adding that the website averages about 3,500 complaints a day, compared to the call center, which fields more than 35,000 calls a day. “Which would you rather choose?”

When Content Operations Manager William Reda mentioned 311’s Twitter feed, several members of the crowd could be overheard asking what a Twitter is.

“I understand what they’re trying to do,” said Maspeth resident Richard Gundlach. “The presentation was ... I mean, a tweet? To a neighborhood of elderly residents?”

Gundlach came with reports in hand he had printed out from 311’s website concerning an issue he said he had called about at least 12 times since October.

“I reported it to 311. I tried online once, but it was not easy. I don’t like to have to play around,” he said.

Gunlach said he was specific with 311 operators when he called to register a noise complaint about an 18-wheel semi-truck with a loud refrigeration unit that parks off of 51st Avenue on 72nd Street. The NYPD, however, does not have a noise complaint category for refrigeration units, so the 311 operator has to categorize the noise as an idling engine.

“Therein lies the problem,” Gundlach said, reading a report detailing the department’s response. “The police come down and the engine isn’t idling. The status is, ‘Police responded, police action not necessary,’” he read.

Reda said this particular situation is what 311 calls a “content gap,” and protocol is for call center managers to work with agencies to develop the best ways to categorize and prioritize complaints.

“I’ve been at 311 for three years, and I haven’t seen that complaint,” he added.

Ivan Mossop said he had called 311 several times about potholes on Calamus Avenue, and although he finds the service to be effective, he understands that the overwhelmed agencies are not always able to respond.

“You can’t shoot the messenger,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 11:07 am, October 12, 2011
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