Returning home the other night at 8 p.m., I noticed a gurgle of water coming up from the street. Thinking little of it, I went inside my crib and finished my shift.
4.5 hours later the gurgle had turned into a babbling spring. A roaring reverse waterfall of brown water blowing up through cracks in the street; the sewers no longer keeping up with the H20 output, which was beginning to freeze. Water main break.
I called up 311 and within five minutes had reported the break and hung up the phone, even though it was 12:30 a.m. By the time the sun rose, DC Water was on the scene. By Wednesday morning, the break was fixed.
311 is a great service. I’m out walking without a smartphone and I still know there is one number for almost any city service. Sure, sometimes the service from the designated agencies leaves something to be desired (I have encountered a handful of dead rat removal problems), but in terms of 311 there are rarely long holds and the operators are polite and professional. The city is offering legitimate customer service to its residents…but for how much longer?
New Mayor Vincent Gray enters with a huge budget deficit, and he has already intoned there may be tax hikes. But there certainly will be budget cuts. He has not specifically mentioned 311, but it can’t be cheap to staff a call center 24 hours a day in an area as expensive as D.C.
The government call center was an Adrian Fenty effort three years ago, and Vincent Gray may not feel beholden to continue the costly effort. He should. As a relatively new resident to the city, having a catch-all service line is a great convenience. Had I not been able to make a simple phone call to report a water main break, I may have grown frustrated and called back later, which would have increased the damage done by the break and cost the city money. Allowing citizens to crowd-source problems has to save money in some instances and likely makes certain types of infrastructure patrols unnecessary. The government makes it easy to report a problem and the citizens respond by helping out the government.
Vince, you will have cuts to make in the coming months, but please don’t look at 311. The service is an example of what local government can do right — and any cuts to this service just to get rid of Fenty policies would be short-sighted.