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Public Advocate's Red Tape Report - Potholes & Sinkholes

Public Advocate's Red Tape Report - Potholes & Sinkholes

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Published by Bill de Blasio

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Published by: Bill de Blasio on Sep 26, 2011
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Potholes and sinkholes are common hazards that pose a safety threat to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike

. More than 80,000 New Yorkers called 311 this year to request repairs for a damaged street in their neighborhood—and filling those requests should be among the most routine of local government’s responsibilities. But complaints received by the Public Advocate’s office show that the process of making street repairs is plagued by bureaucracy and a lack of communication between City agencies. Combined with a sharp increase in overall pothole complaints, the City’s flawed process results in frustrating hurdles for residents and unnecessary delays before repairs are made. With one policy change, the City can cut waste, save taxpayer dollars and accelerate repairs for safer streets and a better government.

More Potholes, More Delays
With a 56% increase in calls over the past five years, 311 experienced a dramatic uptick in the number of service requests for damaged streets between 2006 and 2010. With 82,572 calls logged this year already, the total number of requests is expected to reach its highest level in 2011. Compounding this problem, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s Constituent Services hotline has experienced a recent surge in calls from New Yorkers complaining that potholes previously reported to 311 had not been repaired. At issue was a difference between the technical terms used by 311 to classify street damage. Some callers waited weeks and even months for the repairs before seeking the Public Advocate’s help to cut through the red tape. The bottom line: demand for street repairs has reached an all-time high, and government is failing to meet it.
Number of 311 Service Requests: Road Conditions
120,000 100,000 79,067 80,000 60,000 40,000 20,000 0 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 66,880 89,704



An Inefficient Process
Public Advocate de Blasio conducted a survey of New Yorkers who called his Constituent Services hotline to report unfilled potholes. These frustrated New Yorkers were all snared by the same inefficient system when requesting repairs for street damage:

1. Individuals call 311 to report damage, and tell the dispatcher the problem is a “pothole.” 2. 311 creates a complaint report, which generates a 311 reference number, and the problem is then referred to the Department of Transportation (DOT). 3. The DOT dispatches an inspector to verify and evaluate the problem. 4. If the problem is identified as a “pothole,” the inspector reports back to DOT and a repair crew is assigned to fix it. If the inspector deems the damage a “sinkhole,” he or she alerts 311 that the problem does not fall under DOT’s jurisdiction and closes the case.
Office of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio | 1 Centre St, 15th Flr, New York, NY 10007 | Hotline: 212.669.7250 | www.advocate.nyc.gov

5. The constituent calls 311 to check on the status of the repair. 311 tells the caller that the case has been closed because the damage was a “sinkhole,” not a “pothole.” 311 explains to the caller that the problem falls under the purview of a different City agency— DOT fixes “potholes”, while the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) fixes “sinkholes”—so a separate call is necessary. 6. If re-reported, 311 re-routes the problem to the appropriate agency, which then dispatches a DEP inspector for evaluation, repeating the process once again. As a result of this convoluted and inefficient process:  New Yorkers are forced to waste time making multiple calls to report the same problem;  The DOT and DEP waste money sending multiple inspectors to evaluate the same problem; and  Holes in streets remain open longer, magnifying the inherent safety risk of potholes and sinkholes.

Potholes v. Sinkholes: What's the Difference? While most New Yorkers use the word “pothole” to describe any hole in the street, City agencies use up to ten different classifications for these street defects. Below are the two most common:  Potholes have “definable bottom surfaces, such as dirt or gravel.”  Sinkholes (or cave-ins) “generally look like depressions, with a jagged hole and a deep void underneath.”
(Source: NYC Department of Transportation)

Recommendations: Streamline & Save Taxpayer Dollars
New York City can do better. In today’s challenging economic climate, government is often forced to make difficult decisions and cut essential City services. But by identifying wasteful practices like the one above, the City can prevent those cuts and more effectively manage the extraordinarily high demand for street damage repairs. New Yorkers simply cannot afford the waste and inefficiency of reduntant procedures. Fortunately, the process can be improved with a simple policy change that establishes better lines of communication between city agencies. To that end, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio recommends: when an agency inspector (DOT or DEP) diagnoses street damage that lies outside its jurisdiction, he or she should automatically transfer the constituent’s case and complaint reference number to the appropriate agency for resolution. This simple solution (outlined below) will simplify the process for constituents reporting street damage, save the City money by cutting redundant inspections, improve the speed of repairs and reduce the safety risk of unfilled potholes.
Current Process for Fixing Street Defects A Streamlined, More Efficient Model

Office of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio | 1 Centre St, 15th Flr, New York, NY 10007 | Hotline: 212.669.7250 | www.advocate.nyc.gov

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