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City adds mobile apps to 311 service

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Evanston officials today announced a new way for residents to report potholes, broken parking meters and other issues to the city's 311 service — using mobile phone apps from SeeClickFix, a company based in New Haven, Conn.

Erica Storlie, the interim manager of the city's Citizen Engagement Division, says the applications — available for iPhone, Android and Blackberry cell phones — are free for residents, and the functionality for the city to respond to request through the system will cost the city just $40 a month.

Sue Pontarelli, the supervisor of the 311 staff, says 311 has received more than 14,000 service requests since it launched March 1. That works out to more than 60 a day.

And Eric Palmer, the city's community information coordinator said the staff is hoping 10 to 20 percent of the requests ultimately will come in from the mobile phone interface.

The SeeClickFix applications let people attach photos to document the issue they're reporting. So a resident who wants to report a broken parking meter could include a picture showing the meter's number, to make it easier for a city employee assigned to fix it to find it.

Palmer noted that the 311 service launched after this winter's big snow storm, but he says he anticipates the mobile appls will come in handy this winter for residents who want to snap a photo to document an unshoveled sidewalk or other issues to report to city inspectors.

Storlie says the city uses software from another company, WebQA, to drive its 311 system except for the mobile apps. The SeeClickFix software didn't have enough features to do the job the city needed when it was selecting software for the service, Storlie says, but it has been rapidly adding functionality since.

And, she said, using the mobile applications from WebQA would have been "250 times more costly" than the ones from SeeClickFix.

She says that when the city's current contract with WebQA expires next July, the city may consider switching to SeeClickFix because of its lower cost structure and open application programing interface.

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