Got a non-Urgent
  Problem Boston?
  Call 311.

By Ha Ta, Josh Sullivan, Yuan Tian, Mengjiao Yu.

What would you do if an abandoned mattress was left in the middle of the sidewalk, blocking anyone in a wheelchair from getting down the street? What about if there was a rat infestation in your Allston neighborhood or a hypodermic needle behind the post office? A solution to your problem might be just a tweet away.

In 2015, the city of Boston launched its 311 service, previously known as the mayor’s hotline, to make it easier for residents to report non-emergency issues and access city services. “If you have a broken street lamp, missed trash pickup, graffiti on your building, a bigfoot sighting or anything else that concerns you, use the new system,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in a video where he introduced Boston 311 services.

Number of Calls per Capita by Neighborhoods

Where do the calls come from the most within Boston’s 23 neighborhoods? The answer might seem obvious: Dorchester - Boston's largest neighborhood. But a look at the number of calls per capita for each neighborhood provides a different insight.

Allston, with a population of nearly 20,000, had the highest calls per capita ratio, with more than one call for every other resident. Yet its next door neighbor Brighton is responsible for the least amount of calls in the city. These two neighborhoods are, in some ways, similar in their residents, both filled with college students and recent graduates.

From 2012, when the 311 services started as the mayor's hotline, until 2018, requests made to the number increased by 10 percent. More and more constituents are aware of and use 311 services than before.

No three years saw more variation in the call volume than 2014-2016, as there was an 850,000 call drop off between 2015 and 2016. That, according to Boston 311 Director Rocco Corigliano, is because of an uncharacteristic winter in 2015 in which there seemed to be “a two foot snow storm every week.”

“That’s sort of like an anomaly, what we have before and after is what we typically have,” Corigliano said. “We reached over 110,000 calls in just February."

How Do Bostonians Requests 311 Services?

Boston 311 services are not only accessible by phone calls; constituents can connect to the service online using the Boston 311 website, make a request through the BOS:311 app or simply tweet your frustration out!

One of the least popular methods of requests is through Twitter. The 311 Twitter account is still in its infant stages, said Corigliano. Although 1,760 people utilized it to report issues in the city since the account was launched, this constitutes the minority of requests to Boston 311.

But a look at recent data from the social media site offers some context into who is reporting problems to the city.

Harry Grillo - who otherwise goes by the Twitter name @RedBassett - tweeted at the Boston 311 Twitter account 89 times in 2018.

By day, he runs a video lighting company, but in his spare time, he acts as a public transit activist and constantly advocates for bicyclist safety in the city.

Twitter user @CoachBalto - real name Sam Balto - just narrowly missed out on the title of ‘most avid 311 tweeter.’

The Roxbury gym teacher’s 84 tweets were mostly in regards to transportation in the Roxbury area, while some thanked the service for a quick response, others spoke to larger systemic problems such as a lack of language options in the 311 services app.

What Do People Request 311 Services for?

People call 311 most often to report a pothole, get a street cleaned, pay a parking ticket or request a needle clean-up. In Boston specifically, where winter is harsh, 311 also receives winter service requests like: report unshoveled sidewalk, request to salt or plow a street or help with insufficient home heating.

There were 39 different categories of reasons for 311 requests in 2012. In 2018, that expanded to 46 reasons.

Sanitation and Highway Maintenance are always on top of the list of requests made to Boston 311 but in 2018 there were more requests for Street Cleaning and removing Abandoned Vehicles.

Compared to 2012, the number of complaints decreased for most categories. However, an overwhelming number of complaints for enforcement and abandoned vehicles were made in 2018.

Someone reported a beat-up Chevy Impala has been illegally parked for several days. Another complained that someone left a boat with no motor underneath a bridge along the Neponset River.

Requests for Code Enforcement

Code enforcement requests saw the most dramatic increase in the six-year span. In 2018, there was a code violation call nearly every day. The spike happened in 2016, when the city went from 331 of these requests to 9,433 in just a year.

This is the same year that several pieces of legislation were passed to prevent overcrowding in apartments housing students. Though violations had been committed by landlords for years, they previously went unpunished, according to a 2016 Boston Globe story.

Code enforcement complaints are commonly reported in poorer neighborhoods. Police departments have been known to crack down on tall grass and broken windows in an attempt to keep crime out of neighborhoods.

Yet the data defies this perception.

Though Dorchester has the largest number of code enforcement calls, Allston has the most calls per capita. Downtown, West Roxbury and Beacon Hill, all considered wealthy neighborhoods, are toward the top of the list.

That may have more to do with what constitutes a code enforcement complaint, Corigliano said. He added that one of the most common code enforcement requests around election season is to take down campaign flyers and signs from city property, such as street lamps and traffic light poles. There’s likely to be more of those types of signs in wealthier neighborhoods because more people, including tourists, traffic them.

How often are 311 Requests Solved on-time?

The number of requests to 311 that are not solved on time have overall increased for all Boston neighborhood. And although the total number of requests to Boston 311 only increased by 10 percent in six years, neighborhoods like Brighton and Fenway where there are the least requests made, saw the number of overdue requests doubled from 2012 and 2018.

Is there a chance that baseball may be partly responsible for the delay in solving Fenway's requests? The Fenway area underwent tremendous renovations in 2018, including the start of construction of Fenway Center, an area of residential buildings and retail shops outside of the ballpark. The usual traffic that takes place around Fenway Park during baseball season was complemented by an extended season due to a Red Sox World Series Championship.

According to Corigliano, that's probably not it.

“The Red Sox winning or losing, except for the night of the event, has little effect on calls,” he said with a smile. “Once any of these teams are anywhere close to winning a championship the calls start coming in like ‘where’s the parade?’ (It’s like) can we not jinx them first?”