Another Budget Boondoggle: the 311 Call Center

by Paul Hogarth on June 24, 2009

If 311 is San Francisco’s phone number for “non-emergencies,” why does it have to be available 24 hours a day? In June 2008, City Controller Ben Rosenfield wrote a memo that showed 91% of 311 calls are made between 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m., and the City could save about $500,000 a year if it shut down the Call Center every night. Of course, not having 311 available 24/7 is a less glamorous talking point for Mayor Gavin Newsom – whose press operation constantly touts the program (the latest being that you can now twitter the Call Center.) Earlier this year, 311 took a lot of heat – when Supervisor Bevan Dufty held hearings that found it was charging Muni $1.96 for every call they received from someone waiting for a next bus. (An identical service is available by calling 511, which doesn’t cost Muni a dime.) Seven million dollars of 311’s $11 million budget was billed to the MTA as a “work order,” so we expected this figure to come down considerably after the Board made it an issue. How much does the Mayor’s budget give back to Muni from 311? $828,620.

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