The map filled up quickly Wednesday
At the Mayor's Hotline office in City Hall, one of the large-screen displays is dedicated to a real-time map of incoming complaints - from both residents and other city departments. As snow changed to rain and then froze, the map turned into a sea of blue telephones for complaints from residents, and red trucks, for complaints from police officers and firefighters. Yellow hardhats floated around, showing the location of city inspectors charged with following plows around to make sure they're plowing how and where they should.
Normally, the Hotline might have five or six fulltime staffers answering the phones at 617-635-4500. Yesterday, though, 24 workstations were manned by both fulltime Hotline workers and volunteers from both other city departments and some local colleges. By 2 p.m., they'd answered more than 2,700 calls, based on another large monitor that shows the status of incoming calls and wait times. By the end of the day, 5,791 calls had come in.
That board showed three dropped calls - people who simply hung up after waiting at least 30 seconds for somebody to pick up. The number annoyed Justin Holmes, the city's director of constituent engagement, who oversees the call center. The center's goal is to have 95% of all calls answered within 30 seconds; so far this year, Holmes said, the center is averaging 99%.
He compared this to New York City's automated 311 system, which loses roughly 60% of its calls as frustrated residents get lost in a maze of menu options. The difference, he said: Boston uses no menus; all calls are answered by an actual person, who works with callers to figure out where to route their request. "Other cities do 311," which typically involves menus, Holmes said. "We're not other cities."
On Wednesday, calls in the morning started out being mostly about snow - unshoveled sidewalks, unplowed roads and the like. By 2 p.m., Holmes noted, "the last two hours, we've had a very high number of reports of ponding."
Holmes and Don McGough, the city's director of emergency preparedness, said data from the hotline - and the related Citizens Connect smartphone apps - now help the city figure out how to best marshal resources during a storm. The two spend a lot of time on the phone themselves - with other department heads in conferences throughout the day.
Holmes discussed some of the more common winter issues:
Bus stops: The MBTA is responsible for bus stops without shelters. Stops with glass shelters are supposed to be maintained by the company that put them up under a contract with the city.
Space savers: Southie remains the undisputed center of space-saver culture, but the practice has started spreading outward as the media play up and even romanticize the practice. The city does try to send out a crew to remove space savers when other residents complain.
Problems that don't get fixed: Such as this snow mountain in Dorchester. City action may not always achieve the result callers want. When it comes to private property, or sidewalks in front of private property, all city inspectors can do is issue citations - there is no emergency city shoveling unit - so if the property owner doesn't want to fix the problem, it doesn't get fixed. Holmes said he's currently working on a technical fix to a related issue - his office isn't notified when an inspector issues a citation, so there's no way to notify complainers that the city has done what it can.
Another issue is when a complaint comes in about state property - such as DCR parkways. The city can forward a complaint, but it can't force a fix. And sometimes, people from outside Boston call in to complain about stuff in their towns - and sometimes it can be hard to convince them the city of Boston can't help them.
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Wonder how many complaints
Wonder how many complaints they got from people in Brookline who don't realize it's a separate city.
what's the satisfaction rate?
"That board showed three dropped calls - people who simply hung up after waiting at least 30 seconds for somebody to pick up. The number annoyed Justin Holmes, the city's director of constituent engagement, who oversees the call center. The center's goal is to have 95% of all calls answered within 30 seconds; so far this year, Holmes said, the center is averaging 99%."
Who gives a damn how fast they answer the phones if the reason they're fast is because they dump your call as quickly as possible? I was riding in a cab that had a massive exhaust leak and the inside of the car smelled like rotten eggs- I got out of the cab feeling sick. I noted the medallion number.
I call the mayor's hotline and I've barely said the word "cab" when she cuts me off and says "hold for that department". Finally the line starts ringing. And rings. And rings. And rings. And then I get voicemail for the hackney unit, which of course is always closed when people are most likely to be using cabs...at night. That's right, voicemail, from Menino's "we don't use voicemail" administration.
So I call back and explain that nobody answers. "Hold again", and she transfers me over again. Still nobody.
I call a THIRD TIME, and tell her to stop cutting me off and transferring me- that there's nobody answering the phone. She says "call back on Monday." It's Saturday evening! Hundreds of passengers would be sickened by the cab.
All they do is transfer you to some other department in the city where nobody answers the phone or the people in that department don't want to help you. I expect them to help in situations where other city units aren't getting the job done. Not to play glorified switchboard operators.
Tell us. Did you ever eventually leave a message so that it could at least be fixed on Monday when the Hackney Unit was in? Or did you just want to gripe so badly about voicemail that you left your oh-so-important concern on the floor?
I have to say the exit from Storrow drive Eastbound to Fenway is similar to the lunar landscape -- I drive a Mini and there were pot holes from which I thought we might not emerge! Definitely worth a pin on the map, especially after the years of construction delays (and money spent) "improving" that whole interchange.
Nice article, Adam. It's
Nice article, Adam. It's definitely interesting to see what's going on there.