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Call me, maybe: the ins and outs of 311

Last July, as Councillors were on the campaign trail, there was quite a bit of talk at doors about 311 services. This is common in the summertime – when the days grow longer and people venture outdoors more, the number of 311 calls, emails and tweets naturally go up. That's because people notice more things that need to be brought to the City’s attention. As a result, response times at 311 can become a challenge.

Toronto's 311 call centre received over 1 million calls in 2018

Councillors acted on complaints about 311 response times with a motion requesting a review of its services. The report has come back this week (you can read it here) and I think you'll find the results interesting.


The central 311 system is best known as a phone-in service. Most people never find themselves calling until there is an extreme case like a bad storm or flood, at which point they discover the phone lines are totally swamped. However, the recent review shows 311 users are starting to use the email platform, the self-service web page and even Twitter to initiate service requests.

311 responded to a record number of calls during the ice storm in 2013

The review also shows that in a majority of cases, 311 staff are responding and addressing issues within the service levels councillors voted for in the last few Budgets. This means simple cases are solved quickly and more complex ones can take a few days. Fortunately, staff have improved the way residents can check on the status of their cases by going online.

If you haven't yet taken the time to familiarize yourself with the 311 Toronto website, you should. Their emailand Twitter platforms see far less volume than the phone lines and are very user-friendly. If you do want to stick to the phone, consider calling later at night.

The report

Now, the most interesting reading in the report is Appendix C at the very end. It lists all the various calls that flood the lines at 311, sorted by division and then by wards. Staff use this type of data to determine which services they need to invest time and energy in improving. Councillors can also use the chart to determine the services their constituents need most and advocate for them at City Council.

Requests to fill potholes are one of the most common calls to 311 across the city

The 311 data is provided in public documents like this for you to scrutinize, as well. I invite you to do the backstroke through Appendix C. You will get an idea of the kinds of things that are perfectly fine to call in for. You may see something that gets you thinking and want to give feedback on the improvements I should be demanding for you.

Unfortunately, I can't be everywhere at once – so when you call 311 or my team with a concern, you are playing an important role as our much-appreciated eyes on the street.


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