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Your Montgomery County tax dollars at work…

May 30, 2013, 6:42 PM

Yes, fellow Montgomery County residents, your tax dollars pay for what I’m about to describe here.  First of all, let me show you what the original problem was:

Solid green light out on left turn signal out at Veirs Mill Road and Edmonston Drive in Rockville.

Yep… a bulb on a traffic light is out.  This is the corner of Veirs Mill Road and Edmonston Drive in Rockville.  It’s the solid green light on the left turn signal for northbound Veirs Mill drivers turning left onto Edmonston (right here).  I consider a light out on a left turn signal to be a very serious matter, because in many cases, there’s only one of them, and it has many different combinations that can be displayed that all mean different things.  It can be a very dangerous situation if part of that light isn’t working, and therefore unable to signal drivers on how to proceed, since its operation is more complicated than a conventional signal.  Plus, there are usually at least two conventional signals at an intersection anyway, so if one is not working, the other one picks up the slack.  But when there’s only one left turn signal, it has to be running at 100% all of the time.

So I did exactly what the county has told all of us to do when we need to report something like this: call 311.  Since I knew that I wouldn’t remember it for very long, I called them right on the spot, from the car, using the handsfree dialing through the car.  I got the 311 representative, and I told them that I have a traffic signal light out to report.  The 311 representative told me that all traffic signal issues, regardless of whether they are on state roads (i.e. numbered roads) or county roads (i.e. roads without numbers), are handled through the county’s traffic operations office.  They told me the number of the traffic operations office, and then offered to transfer me to them.  Since I was driving, I couldn’t take a number down, and so I readily accepted the offer of the transfer.

After being transferred, someone from traffic operations picked up the phone.  So I started my spiel over, that I was calling to report a light out on a traffic signal, where the signal itself was working, but a bulb was out, and that it was the solid green light.  The person on the other end of the phone asked me if I would go to their website, and wanted to give me the URL for the page so that I could go and report it.  They then asked if I was driving, and when I said that I was, they asked if it would be possible to stop in a safe location soon to take down the address.  I responded by asking if I could just give the information to them and let them handle it.  They did.  I gave them all of the information, gave my name and a callback number, and then we got off of the phone.

The question that I have is this: why couldn’t 311 have just handled it?  I see no reason that 311 couldn’t have handled this and gotten me off the phone much sooner than I did.  In other words, why couldn’t they have taken all of my information down and then relayed it to the proper department?  The reason that we have 311 in the first place is to be a single point of contact for these sorts of inquiries, especially for a simple request.  I’ve called 311 before about other matters, and always have had a quick, easy experience.  When I called about a dead deer in the road one time, the 311 representative took down all of the information about the problem such as what it was and the exact location, took down my contact information, and then gave me a case number.  I assume that after I got off the phone with them, they called up a guy with a shovel to collect the deer off of the road.  In another incident, there was a discarded Christmas tree that had rolled into the road and was blocking one lane of traffic.  I called, they took down all of the information, verified that it was actually in the roadway, and took care of it.  I don’t see why this would be any different, i.e. take down all of the information, and then pass it along.  Transferring me to traffic operations would have been acceptable if traffic operations had wanted to take the information on the phone.  Referring me to a website while I’m driving (though they didn’t know at the time that I was driving) wasn’t a good move.  I don’t like being passed around.

The whole idea of 311 and similar systems in the first place is to give users a single point of contact for various matters, and then let the back end sort the matter out.  I use an email-based version of such a system at work for processing certain request types.  It works very well.  The idea is not to make it a pain in the neck to use.  If it’s a bother to use, people are not going to use it.  I certainly could have left the traffic light issue alone, but then someone else after me might have had an accident because the light wasn’t functioning properly.  Thus I report it, because I do care enough about the safety of my fellow county residents to report maintenance concerns of that nature.  After all, the disruption caused by a traffic accident stemming from a bad signal is far worse than the disruption caused while fixing a signal.

What Montgomery County really should do is emulate what DC does.  The county could easily use its @MontgomeryCoMD Twitter account as 311 for social media.  DC’s Department of Transportation does that with its @DDOTDC account.  They’re great.  I’ll tweet a signal out, a sign out of place, or something else wrong, and they’ll respond back to me via the Twitter, thanking me for the report, and asking further questions if they have any (most of my reports are straightforward stuff).  When I did something similar for Montgomery County, I was rebuffed:

Twitter discussion with MoCo over traffic light issue

Did I ever call them or go to the website about this?  No.  Did they fix it?  Eventually, but I doubt it was on account of me.  The better response from the county would have been, “Thanks – we’ll pass this along,” and then having the social media people enter it into the 311 system or something, rather than batting me around to different venues.  In this case, I don’t believe I was able to make a call because of my location.  I was around a dead zone.

So that’s that, I suppose.  I guess the bottom line is, if you are promoting the use of a single service center, use it in all forms (phone, web, social media), and more importantly, don’t route me.  Route my request.

Categories: Rockville, Some people