Toronto Life - The Informer

Insider intel on the politics and personalities shaping the city. Sign up for Preview newsletter for weekly updates

Random Stuff


311 records show that rich people still use their phones more than Google

Most inquiries to Toronto’s 311 information line come from residents of higher-income neighbourhoods. The dark blue patches indicate the highest percentages of calls. Click on the map to see OpenFile's interactive version. (Source: OpenFile)

Torontonians finally have some news about 311, city hall’s easy-info phone line that’s been up and running for nearly a year. The service has helped nearly a million people, it’s been praised as a positive part of David Miller’s legacy (even by the people looking to replace him), and it briefly looked like it was endorsing Rob Ford. All great points, or at least momentarily amusing ones, but the sleuths at OpenFile have discovered one problem with 311: the poorer parts of the city use it a lot less than the wealthier bits.

OpenFile obtained the data from the city’s 311 service under access-to-information laws. We received the postal code information for about 90,000 enquiries made between September 2009 and July 2010.

The top five neighbourhoods that used the service were Etobicoke’s Islington Ave. region south of Bloor, followed by Leaside, the Beaches, the Kingsway and southwestern Scarborough.

The lowest percentage of calls came from the east downtown corridor near Bloor and Sherbourne Streets, followed by The Esplanade neighbourhood near St. Lawrence, North York’s Jane-Finch region, Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park.

The question that remains is why people with lower incomes—who, it’s fair to guess, could actually use city services more—would use 311 less. OpenFile offers language barriers and a bias toward homeowners in the data as two possible explanations. That second one is a biggie, it seems. It’s not the case that you have to give your postal code for every inquiry (why would it?) and OpenFile is working from a small sample of 311’s total calls.

Still, what’s really odd is that we expected almost exact opposite stats: wealthier people also own more Internet-attached gadgets, and in this day and age, using the phone to find information seems almost charmingly anachronistic (read: very 1992). On the other hand, there are some issues you probably want to hear a human’s voice on, like “Can I cut down this tree?” or “Can I kill this raccoon?” or “There’s a raccoon cutting down my tree; can I kill him?”

• Wealthier areas make more 311 calls [OpenFile]

  • Johanne

    It’s easy to slip into conclusions when slicing and dicing a limited pool of data.

    Let’s apply some basic statistics principles and see if this “sleuthing” still reveals what this article suggests about who calls in to 311.

    Besides, it might be more useful to map out what work is being done by 311 across the city instead of getting worked up over who’s on the phone.

  • FiFi

    I do hope that the author of this article doesn’t take up super-sleuthing full-time or we will never discover who killed the raccoon. Language barriers are non-existent at 311 as a 24 hour language interpretation service is used upon request of the caller. If Sherlock had taken a more in depth look at the type of services offered by 311, he/she would have discovered the reasons why the service is used heavily by homeowners. Tenants/renters are not responsible for water service lines, sewer service lines or plumbing related issues in the building(s) they occupy, nor are they responsible for garbage collection issues or the pruning of and/or storm damage related issues with trees. There are many, many issues that are solely the responsibility of the property owner.
    In order to get a clearer picture of who and why 311 is used, it is necessary to look at the various districts in terms of the number of single family owned homes compared to high density rental accommodation.

  • iSkyscraper

    What a dumb headline. Should be “311 records show that rich people call 311 more”, which is not exactly surprising. They pay higher taxes and expect services for it, and as others point out they are mostly homeowners who actually need information about services that relate to property maintenance.

    Also, there is a class issue here with regard to “fix it, I deserve it” vs “I’m exhausted and beaten down and I have more important things to worry about and I don’t expect The Man to take care of me anyway”. New York is no different — visit any poor neighbourhood and streets are absolutely filled with litter and graffiti. The wealthy neighborhoods have none, and if any appears someone will call 311 to take care of it. If you are proud of your neighbourhood and have the luxury of time to help maintain it you will call more than if you just are trying to get home and get dinner on the table with money you don’t have in a place you’d rather not be renting.

  • Crimson Cass

    Totally wild guess here – maybe it’s older people calling 311 who are less comfortable using the internet, even if they have it?

  • Andrew

    FiFi is probably right about homeowners using the service more than tenants. Notice that downtown has a low usage of 311 despite having large concentrations of higher income condos. Partly this is because many of these condos are actually rented out, and partly this is because condo owners don’t have to deal with as many issues with the city (garbage collection etc.) as single-family home owners.