How To Patch Up Your Bumpy Relationship with the City

And now, from Swamplot’s “tips” line, a reader’s brief personal testimonial for the Houston Service Helpline:

Seems like the folks who read your blog are motivated and want the best for the city (whatever that means to them). You can call 3-1-1 or (713) 837-0311 or my preference is the “web intake form” – clunky, but thorough.  They send you e-mail with incident #, so you can call a representative and follow up. There are drop-down menus to request the type of service you want.

I’ve used the Houston 3-1-1 system a couple of dozen times to report:

9 Comment

  • I’m glad that 3-1-1 works for the tipster, but for me, it has been useless.

    I’m still waiting for the traffic light signals at Post Oak/610 and Post Oak/Uptown Park Blvd – Hollyhurst and Post Oak/4 Oaks Place – Garrettson to be synced properly.

    And for the lane stripes at Post Oak just north of San Felipe to be made visible.

    I call and call and call. And the representative takes down all my information and–more often than not–say that the incident has already been reported. Yet nothing ever changes.

  • We have had some very positive results from 3-1-1 in the past, but it was just this week that the city finally repaired a broken water main that we first reported the day before the Superbowl, and weekly since. The constant flow of water kept the streetcorner flooded and severely damaged a 30-40′ stretch of pavement in those six weeks.

  • Would it be a fool’s errand to call in the lack of wheelchair ramp access in Rice Village? I’m consistently amazed at how many people with babies in strollers have to walk in the street (in one of the most ‘walkable’ parts of the city) because there are so many intersection curbs without ramps.

  • Oh, god, now you’ve given the mayor the 311 card to play. “Approve the sale of Compaq Center or I will cut off 311.”

  • I called after hours and emailed about an issue with the visibility of new traffic signs and pavement markings. I told them it was a safety issue and an accident waiting to happen. I wasn’t rude or loud, and I have no political power (no more than the rest of the people posting on this blog anyway). I just told the facts and explained my reasoning.

    I was personally called the next day and told that the problem would be addressed the next day. It was.

    I thought that was pretty neat.

  • (original tipster here)

    3-1-1 is not a panacea, but even if only half of the stuff you call about gets fixed, that 50% is fixed way faster than it might otherwise have been.

    I suggest the web intake form – you can describe the problem exactly the way you want, without worrying that the phone rep wrote it down wrong.

  • My experience is that some things are fixed immediately and some aren’t. I have complained via the email site three times about the horrendous pavement in all three lanes on southbound Shepherd between the bridge and West Dallas. The last email got one small section on the entrance ramp from Kirby done. Nothing else. Burned out streetlights and dead animals get quick response. Traffic signal synchronization is spotty at best.
    I actaully got a call from an engineer to get my thoughts about the West Gray/Shepherd intersection after a complaint so don’t give up hope.

  • As a former COH Asst. Director, I can honestly tell you all that 311 calls, letters, emails, and phone calls about city services, especially complaints or problems are a priority. Under Mayor White, departments had 2 working days to respond with at least an acknowledgment, and seven days to respond with a result, answer, or action.
    Achieving this can be much more difficult than you might imagine. Houston is more than 600 sq. miles large, and some issues require an employee to visit a site to confirm and report on an issue. We tried our best to coordinate visits to different sections of the city to minimize costs, which is why some issues may take longer to investigate than others. Despite what some may think, in the professional ranks there are not people sitting around with nothing to do, and driving out to some parts of the city to investigate a problem and back can take 1/2 a day.
    One of the challenges is to avoid duplicating efforts and wasting resources, so if it is discovered that a particular street/sidewalk/building/park is scheduled for major work within six months or so, temporary work in response to a complaint may not be a good use of very limited resources. Those decisions are almost always communicated in the responses.
    Overall, I found the city’s system to be pretty comprehensive and well though out. I’ve used 311 many times as a private citizen and have been pleased with the results.

  • I’ve had good luck with requests via the 3-1-1 website for potholes, missing signs, traffic signal problems, faded pavement markings, etc. An email response with tracking number arrives within a few hours.

    Of course, the city fixes those potholes with the cheapest materials available – something resembling used chewing gum – so the repair lasts only a couple of months at best.

    Note to Mayor Parker: Poor materials are a waste of my tax dollar, and I don’t like it!