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City Hall truck aiding underserved areas

Visits to outlying spots aid residents with municipal matters

 Bob Bogie of Dedham approached the City Hall To Go truck with his children, Lyla, 3, and Dominic, 5 in Hyde Park.

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff

Bob Bogie of Dedham approached the City Hall To Go truck with his children, Lyla, 3, and Dominic, 5 in Hyde Park.

A father, toting two young children on a warm weekday morning, needed a copy of his marriage certificate. Another man wanted to make sure his property tax bill went to his new address. A third man sought to resolve a parking ticket dispute.

Normally, trying to address those civic needs would mean a trip to City Hall, time spent shifting foot to foot in a snaking line. But now they’re being handled by a pair of city workers aboard a brightly colored van that rumbles through Boston’s neighborhoods.

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“It’s good to be close to home and get the information you need from the city,’’ said Bob Bogie, the 38-year-old Dedham father who visited the van in Hyde Park one morning.

The van, dubbed City Hall To Go, was conceived by Thomas M. Menino, former mayor, in 2012 as a rolling city office that would accommodate residents who rarely get downtown or do not have access online to city services.

Outfitted with Wi-Fi Internet, two laptops, and scores of city applications, the van makes two stops a day. Its staff of two — they’re constituent service representatives — addresses myriad issues: parking ticket disputes, property tax payments, dog licenses, excise tax payments.

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“This makes it easier for constituents to get city services,’’ said Jerome Smith, director of neighborhood services, which operates the van. “These are things that you would have to come to City Hall to do. This brings City Hall directly to the neighborhoods.”

Since last August, the van has logged 2,400 requests for services from residents — including 1,332 during the first six months of this year — during more than 300 trips, according to city data.

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The van frequents Dorchester, the city’s largest neighborhood, and other outlying neighborhoods such as Allston-Brighton, West Roxbury, and Hyde Park. It has made fewer stops in Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Chinatown, and Roxbury.

Danielle Valle Fitzgerald, the van’s 25-year-old director, said she is trying to beef up the van’s presence throughout the city, particularly in underserved and less empowered areas.

“In the beginning, it was trial and error in terms of where we would go,’’ said Valle Fitzgerald, a former Charlestown neighborhood liaison. “Now, we have a better understanding about where we are successful. Definitely, the public recognizes and talks about us more.”

Before its present incarnation, the City Hall To Go van was an old Northrop Grumman Kurbmaster bomb squad vehicle that sat idle in a city lot. The city spent about $40,000 fixing the shell of the 24-foot-long van, which now looks like a food truck, fashioned with a bright red top and blue bottom, with white lines depicting city streets. The city pays $3,000 a year for propane, gas, and repairs, and $100,000 to staff the van, officials said.

Residents can submit their documents to staff at the van, pay required fees, and get things started. The van’s constituent services representatives, who do not accept cash, take the documents back to the respective departments in City Hall for processing.

“This is much better than going downtown,’’ said Mattapan resident Valerie Burton, who stopped by the van in Hyde Park to apply for a copy of her child’s birth certificate.

Burton said she normally has to enlist several people when she goes to City Hall -- one to drive the car and circle the block, another to help out while she hits the line.

The van sat on a lonely corner in Hyde Park the morning Burton visited, fielding few requests. That evening, it was outside a 7-Eleven on Centre Street in West Roxbury.

Sandra Finder had been in the store when the van pulled up. She hurried out to greet it. A few years back, she had called the hot line at City Hall about getting a tree near her home. She finally got one, but only recently, and now she is trying to get one for her neighbors.

“They are all asking me to get a tree,’’ she said.

Residents stopped by to pay parking fines, pick up books from the Elderly Commission, make payments, or get information.

“I just wanted to make sure my property taxes are going to my new address,’’ said Greg Dankers of Roslindale, who spotted the van on his way to conduct errands.

But all did not go well for Joe Donnelly of West Roxbury, who wanted to settle his dispute with the city over a parking ticket. He brought a one-page photocopy showing five signs with seemingly contradictory dictates about parking. He went ahead and parked anyway, only to return and find his car had been ticketed — and towed.

City worker Will Colon listened and took Donnelly’s complaint. But he was told that eventually he would have to go downtown for a hearing. Frustrated, he walked to his car.

“I have to still go down there,’’ he said as he left.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.
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