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What's the 311?

Chris Landers

Posted 9/2/2009

Back in 2001, then-mayor Martin O'Malley made a pledge to fill every pothole within 48 hours of receiving a complaint about one. In a study of the city's 311 system, Robert Behn, a lecturer at Harvard University, took a look at how well the Department of Transportation was meeting that goal in 2006 and found the average time it took to fill a pothole in Baltimore was 0.7 days. Our data is slightly different than Behn's--we get a 0.57 day average in 2006, and a slight improvement each year after that. That's counting the time it takes from the original call made to the 311 center about a pothole, to the time the request is marked closed. There are some peculiarities in the 311 calls, though. Of the 17,579 calls in our files, 2,539 of them were resolved at almost the exact moment the call came in. Other calls came from addresses where the pothole complaints had previously been marked closed--in one case there were 39 calls from the same address starting in 2005 and continuing until May of this year, each one marked closed. Removing those duplicates left only 7,219 calls, taking out the calls that were resolved, literally, within minutes, left around 6,200 potholes over the course of almost three years. The monthly average number of days it took to fill them is in the chart above. Every year, the yearly average has gone down slightly, and the average every year has been less than 12 hours. In 2008, the city responded to more than 1,200 unique calls about potholes, and only missed O'Malley's 48-hour deadline 21 times.

Disclaimer: What's the 311 is based on data from the Mayor's Office of Information Technology (This time ranging from September 2005 to July 2009). It has been folded, spindled, and mutilated along the way, and no attempt has been made to verify the accuracy of the calls. How are things on Eleanora Avenue, anyway? I'd check it out, but the 311-mobile has lousy suspension.

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