3-1-1 is no joke. Prompted by a story in yesterday's New
York Times the editors at the Black Table decided to test the
quality (and the operator's patience) of the city's revolutionary telephone
information system, still in its infancy. Overall, the 311 operators answered
all our questions as best they could in an adequate amount of time no
matter how ridiculous they were.
Ah, they're still an eager, friendly bunch. We give 'em a week.
As with the Times, ours was not a scientific survey, either. But on Wednesday
March 23, from 8:30 p.m. to 10:15 p.m., we got answers to some rather
compelling questions. Here's a look.
Question: Who do I talk to about getting a license to drive a stagecoach?
Time Until Answer: 2 minutes and 23 seconds. After the operator
Alicia first asked what a stagecoach was she politely told us that she
does not have that kind of information in the system even after she typed
Answer: 311 could not provide that information.
Question: I'm lost. Can you tell me how to get to Rockefeller
Time Until Answer: 14 minutes 32 seconds, via one patient search
for the location of "Wacker" Street (Wacker Drive is in Chicago
purposely done to throw the operator off, however he did not catch on),
and directions from 14th street to the D train. The operator, Wilson,
did not have a map in front of him, but did tell us to make a right on
Wacker and keep walking up 14th Street.
Answer: If we got lost again, he suggested to call the MTA Travel
Information Center at 718-330-1234.
Question: Where can I get information about the time for the next
scientist boxing match?
Time Until Answer: 4 minutes and 12 seconds. The operator, after
searches for both "scientists" and "boxing" there
were no results. After we explained that the matches could be in Brooklyn,
the operator did another search, but still found nothing. The operator
asked twice to clarify the question: "Did you say "scientist"
boxing?." She continued to patiently search after she was told it
was a monthly government sanctioned event where scientists fought.
Answer: Unfortunately, 311 was not able to help with this question.
Question: Where do I get a permit to shoot a pornographic film
in the middle of Washington Square Park?
Time Until Answer: 2 minutes and 14 seconds. The operator, Alicia,
said she didn't think pornographic films had different standards then
regular films, but did have a number to call.
Answer: Please call the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting.
Question: My cat is dead. Who do I contact about getting rid of
Time Until Answer: 8 minutes 13 seconds. The operator was very
respectful and patient and did two searches for trash pick-up schedules
near 204th Street, the location of our dead cat. Trash pickup is on Monday,
Wednesday and Friday, but we don't have to wait for two days. There's
a number we could call. She then apologized for the death of the cat again.
Answer: A special division of the New
York Sanitation Department.
Question: Where can I get a permit to go ice fishing in Central
Time Until Answer: 3 minutes and 43 seconds. The operator needed
clarification on "ice fishing" several times.
Answer: New York State Department of Conservation. (716) 546-8030
(x. 27) or (315) 598-4063 or (315) 591-2507
Question: Do you know what the state alcohol limits are in New
York? I'm in my car right now, I need to find out whether or not I should
Time Until Answer: 4 minutes 42 seconds. The operator said that
we needed to "look at the book" and insisted that "she
did not have the book in front of her". She did some more research
while we were on hold to double-check, however she still found no answers.
We told her we would take our chances and just drive. She seemed okay
Answer: 311 could not provide this information.
Question: I'm trying to organize a child's party and I'd like
to have circus performers attend. I'd like to rent gazelles and midgets.
Do I need to get permits for such a thing?
Time Until Answer: 6 minutes 33 seconds. Amazingly, the operator,
Austin, patiently offered information and also said that he thought it
sounded like a "splendid idea" for a child's party.
Answer: For gazelle permits? NYC Department of Health and Mental
Services. For questions about midget rental permission? NYC
Department of Consumer Affairs.