3-1-1 report card cites 1st-year shortcomings, successes

A new report on the city's 3-1-1 nonemergency line says that one in four service requests made by callers last year was not completed in the promised time frame.

According to the report, from the Pew Charitable Trusts, many Philadelphians who have used the service appreciate it, but the call center has struggled with reduced funding, makeshift technology and staff turnover.

"Major cost-saving efficiencies at city agencies remain years away and require a major technological upgrade, something the administration has acknowledged," the report states.

Mayor Nutter yesterday said that additional money for information technology would be included in his next budget, which would help 3-1-1.

"We're making a significant investment in IT across the city," Nutter said. "The dire condition of many of our IT systems is frankly quite unbelievable."

The 3-1-1 line, launched with great fanfare by Nutter on Dec. 31, 2008, provides callers with information on city services and takes requests for services like towing abandoned cars or filling potholes. During 2009, the line took roughly 1.2 million calls and 60,000 service requests.

Yesterday's report, put out by Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative, looks at how Philly's 3-1-1 performed in year one and compares the local 3-1-1 with similar programs in 14 other municipalities.

According to recent Pew survey of 1,602 Philadelphians, a majority of those who had used 3-1-1 were happy with the service. But only 15 percent of those surveyed had used the line.

The report notes that 3-1-1 had a bumpy start in early 2009, with long wait times for callers. On average during the year, callers waited 1 minute and 45 seconds for an operator to pick up, but that number had fallen to 18 seconds by December.

About 23 percent of the requests for service made through 3-1-1 in 2008 were not completed on time, according to the report. That was largely due to "the fumbled handoff of 13,000 housing-inspection requests," the report states, noting that some requests had not been received or had not been completed due to problems connecting the 3-1-1 database with the Licenses & Inspections Department.

Budget constraints have limited 3-1-1, which was launched with a temporary software system and staff transferred from other city departments. Initially, the call center was available around the clock, but last summer those hours were reduced to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.