SF's 311 Call Center has the answers

SAN FRANCISCO How do you navigate Muni? What are the street parking holidays in San Francisco? Where can you get a building permit? What day does Critical Mass fall on?

This is all information is available free from the City of San Francisco.

At the 311 call center in San Francisco, the epicenter for information in and about San Francisco City Services, real people answer calls 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

They can help you with almost any question you might have and it is not just for city residents, but anyone who needs help navigating the city.

Nancy Alfaro is in charge of the city's 311 service.

She says, "The idea is to get their information or their service request done at the point of entry here at 311, so they don't have to be transferred out to other agencies and have to remember five different numbers to call to get their service."

The program was launched in March of 2007 with tremendous success. It's modeled after similar programs in Chicago and Baltimore.

"We have been tremendously busy and the success has been much more than we ever anticipated," says Alfaro.

Since March 2007 they have answered more than 5 million calls.

"We average about 10 to 11,000 calls a day," says Call Center Manager Kevin Dyer.

311 operators going through a six-week training to prepare them for the flood of topics people call in about.

"They call for all sorts of things. A majority of calls are MTA related. Where's my bus? How do I get from point A to point B? Lost and found… But, we get a number of calls for potholes, graffitis, birth certificate records and all those types of things," says Dyer.

Some calls are more interesting than others.

For example, "If I were to put an automatic, an electrical door in my garage, you know… How would I be able to get into my garage door if the electricity is off?" says Dyer.

From city services to traffic, to the number of days you can keep a dead body in your house, people ask about everything.

Sometimes they just call to say thank you.

One call called to say, "I want to sing you a song and hope you'll pass it along to your other coworkers. Open the back door we want to thank you, open the back door we want to thank you, thank you for this Muni ride."

Regardless of the reason for the call, 311 operators do their best to help out and welcome everyone's calls.

"We're here for the citizens and visitors of the City of San Francisco, and to give us a try and I think they'll like it," says Dyer.

Outside San Francisco you can reach the 311 service by calling (415) 701-2311. San Jose and Berkeley have smaller versions of this same service.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.

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