the Case for Using 311

News From The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association

Nobody likes to wait on hold, or to navigate an automated menu on the telephone. As a result, many people have been scared away from using 311.

Do not be one of those people.

If you have a complaint-about a noisy neighbor, graffiti to be cleaned, or any number of other things-you should pick up your phone and dial 311. That’s the phone number of the New York City government service hotline for non-emergency requests. (You can also make most types of requests using the system’s website, www.nyc.gov/311.)

Of course, we New Yorkers aren’t always the most patient bunch. Many of us are unwilling to invest a few minutes waiting on the phone until we get through to an operator. Sometimes, we do make a 311 request, but we don’t see immediate results and therefore leap to the conclusion that 311 is useless.

Both approaches are off-target. You should call 311, wait until you get an operator, and be certain to get the service request number at the end of the call. You need that number if you want to find out whether the city is responding to your needs.

For us at the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA), whenever someone complains to us about something, our first questions are almost always, “Did you call 311? And what’s the 311 service request number?”

Too often, we hear excuses from people who didn’t call 311 or record the service request number. But without a 311 number, we will probably have difficulty helping you. And unless you call 311 in the first place, the city likely won’t be able to help, either.

Since it was established over nine years ago, the 311 system has received well over 100 million calls. It receives tens of thousands every day. The system serves to centralize and coordinate requests that might be handled by any of over 100 city organizations, agencies, and offices.

But some New Yorkers still aren’t sold on it. If you’re one of those people who refuse to call 311 or who come up with excuses not to use the hotline, here’s our attempt to change your mind.

First, sometimes you will get quick results. I know from personal experience. I have logged dozens of 311 requests, and though I don’t expect the city to respond immediately to them, it does happen more often than you might think.

Second, the city uses 311 to compile statistics. Those stats are important for establishing patterns and allocating resources. Maybe you don’t care much about statistical analysis, but it plays a large role in ensuring that our communities get the attention they deserve. Whenever you decide not to call 311, you are tacitly telling the city that everything is AOK, even when it’s not. That will hurt you and your neighborhood in the long-run.

Third, logging 311 requests helps your civic organizations collaborate with city agencies. The 311 request numbers are the evidence that the WRBA and other organizations need to prove the existence of a chronic problem. If you don’t call 311 and save the service number, then we can’t tell whether a city agency is doing its job-or whether it just didn’t know there was a problem in the first place. If you want the WRBA or your local civic association to help you, give them the ammunition they need by providing the service request number.

If you’re a 311 pro, keep it up. If you’re not, do yourself-and your community-a favor by becoming one. It’s a small but important step in making our city a better place to live.

Editor’s note: Blenkinsopp is a member of Community Board 9 and director of communications for the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association.

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