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Mayor Walsh launches new 311 hot line

Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced a new citywide hot line Tuesday that allows residents to report nonemergency issues by calling the number "311," putting Boston in line with cities that have used such a hot line for years, such as New York and Chicago, as well as Somerville and Springfield.

The new system will replace the antiquated mayor's hot line, which some city councilors have been fighting for a decade to update.

Boston residents are now able to dial "311" from any phone or go online to report problems such as broken street lamps, graffiti, or potholes. If a resident calls the former mayor's hot line number, the call will be automatically transferred.


Walsh announced the change with officials at District Hall in the Seaport District.

"This is a way to increase civic engagement," Walsh said. "Our job is customer service. And this is about changing the culture here."

The city also created an official Boston 311 website and Twitter account. When residents see a nonemergency problem, they can call the phone number, visit the website, or tweet to @Bos311. A smartphone app is also available.

Residents can also upload pictures and provide city responders with detailed location information, city officials said.

Walsh said he hoped the new technology can improve nonemergency reporting across the city, but specifically in the Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan neighborhoods.

Those areas lagged behind in using the previous 10-digit hot line, Walsh said.

"When you look at studies, 311 better connects people to city hall," he said.

Walsh said he has worked on improving the nonemergency reporting since his first month in office. During his January State of the City address, Walsh promised to make the mayor's hot line simpler and more effective.

The nonemergency reporting system was developed in Baltimore in 1996.


In 2004, Baltimore took home a municipal innovation award from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government for its data-driven reporting services, including its 311 call center.

Former Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino resisted a move to a 311 hot line, arguing that the older system allowed residents to have a personal interaction with city officials when they called in an issue.

Yet supporters of the change have long argued a shorter number would make it easier for residents.

In December 2005, the Boston City Council passed a nonbinding resolution urging the Menino administration to switch to a 311 system. Nearly 10 years later, it is happening.

A US Department of Justice case study determined an effective 311 system saved the city of Minneapolis time and money, and allowed 911 staffers to focus more on emergencies.

"I'm excited for people to engage us who have not previously," said 311 program director Niall Murphy.

Murphy said the city will soon conduct a campaign encouraging residents to download the smartphone app and visit the website.

"We ask individuals to provide as much detail as possible, so we can provide the best response," Murphy said.

On the screen behind him, there was an image of a sample nonemergency complaint that could be filed through the new Boston 311 smartphone app.

Case #101001103465: "Someone is throwing tea in the harbor."

Astead W. Herndon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.