texting, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Ron Wiecki’s photostream

When you call the city asking to report an issue, whether it is that pothole on your street that keeps getting bigger or that abandoned car that has been on your block for a year you expect action in a reasonable amount of time. That’s what your tax dollars should be paying for, after all. The city, through our 311 system, receives tens of thousands of requests every year and I want to make sure that every one of those requests is addressed quickly and efficiently. Our system has the potential to be something great and we have the ingenuity in Pittsburgh to make our complaint response line the best in the country. However, it will take dedicated energy from the Mayor’s office to accomplish this.

1. Develop a World-Class Application to Submit Requests

A majority of Americans now have smartphones. You should be able to instantly report issues you come across in your neighborhood or anywhere in the city via a smartphone app that connects directly to our 311 system. One of my first actions as mayor will be to be direct the City Information Systems Department to design an app so that smartphone users can report potholes, overgrowth, and other quality of life issues as they see them. You will be able to snap a photo of that pothole on your street tagged with its location and your contact information, open up the 311 app, and instantly submit a request to the city to fix the problem. The 311 app will notify you that the matter has been resolved.

2. Create a Master Database of Requests

Our existing system takes complaints in and they are dealt with on an individual basis. But there is virtually no way to track multiple issues at the same property over time, especially if they involve multiple city departments or authorities like the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. So year after year, the city deals with the same issues at the same addresses without any comprehensive record keeping. A house may have violations from Building Inspection, Environmental Services, Police, and Animal Control, but each department may be unaware of the other’s citations. As mayor, I will revamp the back-end functions of 311 to make the system serve Pittsburghers better. Properties that are consistent nuisances will not slip under the radar. We will be able to flag problems as they develop and track progress or the lack thereof over time.

3. Track Issue Reports Like You Track a Package

Frequently, when you enter a request for service, follow-up is rare and intermittent, if it happens at all. You shouldn’t have to hope that work is being done on your issue; you should be informed throughout the process. I will prioritize developing a progress meter where you can track your request the same way you would track a package. This way, you will be able to hold the city accountable that the work is being done.