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

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]