By Katie Honan, THE CITY

Logo for THE CITYThis article was originally published on by THE CITY. Sign up here to get the latest stories from THE CITY delivered to you each morning.

311 mobile app
Using 311 in Battery Park. April, 2019. | Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

It’s the city’s catch-all hotline, and for 20 years the 311 system has helped connect New Yorkers to city services — and listened to their ghost stories.

The city’s Office of Technology and Innovation (formerly DoITT) on March 9, 2023, released its “State of NYC311” report, commemorating two decades of the municipal information hotline launched to better connect people to city services.

Launched in March of 2003, 311 operators have now fielded more than 525 million calls, texts, chats, and social media messages, according to the report.

“Since its launch two decades ago, NYC311 has become an indispensable resource for New Yorkers looking to make a noise complaint, report a cleanliness issue, learn whether alternate side parking is in effect, and so much more,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement.

The system has grown since its launch, adding an app, an online chat, and a texting hotline.

In its first year, the service saw an average of 15,133 calls each day. In the first few months of this year, the 311 has averaged more than 98,000 calls a day.

Enormous Volume, Complex City

The report released Thursday shows the system has been the go-to for New Yorkers at some of the biggest moments in the city’s history, like the Metropolitan Transit Authority strike in 2005 (nearly 2 million calls) to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 (nearly 3 million).

The most calls came during a blizzard in late 2010 that dumped more than 30 inches of snow on New York City — and operators handled more than 3 million calls, texts, social media posts, and other messages within a 24 hours period.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg first announced the system, inspired by 311 in Baltimore, in February 2002, soon after taking office. At the time, he recognized it could be difficult to build the largest municipal info line in the country.

“We have enormous volume, we have a complex city, we have many different languages spoken and we have a populace that rightly expects to have government be responsive in ways that, in many other cities, government is not,” he said at the time.

A look at 311 call volume tied to major events in New York City’s history.
A look at 311 call volume tied to major events in New York City’s history. | Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation

It opened a year later, as he promised, and he even claimed to make his own calls occasionally to test the system.

Those calls and messages have shifted through the 20 years. In 2004, the most inquiries were about chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and “freon removal and recovery,” according to the report. Rounding out the top five call subjects that year were parking tickets, noise complaints, heat problems and apartment maintenance.

Last year, New Yorkers were focused on parking: the top inquiries were about parking tickets or camera violations, and the top service requests centered on illegal parking.

Mundane to Bizarre

Throughout its history, the data from these 311 messages has helped paint a picture of what’s happening in New York City — from the serious to the bizarre.

Over the years, New Yorkers have also made a lot of calls on animals. In the first year of the system, someone called about a “cat terrorizing someone through a screen door,” according to the report.

There have also been calls about how to boil a live chicken (2005), if a person can claim a dog as a dependent on taxes (2006), whether dogs can see in color (2015), and if they could use Medicaid for a feline surgery (2009).

One person in 2014 called to report “a raccoon is eating lasagna on my porch.” Another caller reported a goat in the stairwell of their building in 2016.

A raccoon the L train’s East 105th Street station in 2018.
A raccoon the L train’s East 105th Street station in 2018. | Courtesy of Senator Roxanne Persaud’s Office

While 311 operators do not deal with personal relationships, it didn’t stop some New Yorkers from trying. In 2009, a concerned caller asked a 311 operator if they could check if their boyfriend was married.

A decade later, someone asked “if a couple is divorced, can they still live in the same house but in different rooms?”

So far this year, at least one person has called to be transferred to a “UFO-ologist.”

And in 2015, someone called “to report a ghost in my window.”

It’s unclear if that was Mayor Adams, who has recently claimed there are phantoms in Gracie Mansion.

Republished with permission.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *