The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to support an audit into the city’s 311 system following a report by Controller Ron Galperin that found the system was plagued by long wait times and lags behind similar programs in other cities.

The 311 system was created in 2002 as a call center to help residents access government services and improve civic engagement. It is supposed to be a one-stop shop for non-emergency services. People can call the number if they need to get graffiti erased, street lights fixed, potholes filled, bulky items removed and more.

“When you see a pothole or an abandoned vehicle on the street, you should be confident that by calling 311 or making a service request through the MyLA311 app or website, you can get that matter resolved,” Galperin said in a report released on March 11.

“But right now, it’s not that easy. Some basic neighborhood issues aren’t included in 311 and it’s very hard to track progress on many that are. The city needs to retool its approach to 311 and adopt a customer-first model to better meet Angelenos’ needs,” he added.

Galperin called on the city to fix the program by re-imagining it through a customer-first approach. He said the city should re-evaluate how it engages with residents and the role of 311 and other department call centers. It should also incorporate customer ideas into the design process, use new technologies such as artificial intelligence to improve self-service and create a contact center that integrates all the ways people use 311, Galperin said.

The City Council on Wednesday voted to have the controller identify funding for a consultant to conduct an “as-is” and “to-be” analysis of the system. The consultant would also propose processes and best practices for customer experience, including public communications for service requests.

Galperin will report back to the council within 60 days on hiring a qualified consultant.

Last year, the system received 1.75 million service requests through the call center, email, website and smartphone app. The mobile app and website accounted for 80% of service requests in 2020, up from 51% in 2016.

“However, contact methods have grown beyond simple phone calls to multiple, integrated ways of communicating, such as email, social media, web portal and smartphone app,” Councilman Paul Koretz said. “If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the city of LA has an obligation to provide essential services to residents no matter where they live or how they choose to reach out, and we need to be prepared to do so.”

Galperin said the 311 program functions worse than similar programs in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas.

He identified five problems with the city’s program, including:

— many city departments also have their own service request systems, causing confusion about 311, which is meant to be a one-stop shop;

— some issues commonly experienced by Angelenos aren’t included in 311, such as noise complaints, housing complaints, fire safety issues, parking violations and abandoned vehicles, which Galperin said should be added to 311’s system;

— customers waited an average of 3.3 minutes in 2019, while other cities’ systems experience wait times ranging from 10 seconds to 2.8 minutes;

— 311 does not give customers an estimate of how long it will take for the issue to be handled, which Galperin said undermines accountability; and

— 311 doesn’t seek customer feedback about the program and the requested service.

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