In a recent post, I reviewed the Cambridge Department of Public Works from the perspective of customer service. The DPW has said that it wants to use the web more aggressively as a customer service tool. To that end, they are to be commended for developing a web form to accept reports of icy or uncleared sidewalks. Unfortunately, this web tool leaves a lot be desired.
- You can’t find it. The tool is buried deep within the City’s web site and seems only to be linked from a page linked from the DPW’s “Snow Resources” page, which itself is deeply buried. The tool should be a link on the front page of the DPW’s web site and, arguably, the front of the City’s web site.
It’s hard to use. In an approach that can be characterized as too clever, the address reporting mechanism provides a drop down list of each of the 837 streets in Cambridge. Scrolling through this list to York Street isn’t easy. While the purpose of this is to ensure that all addresses reported to the DPW are valid, you can click “Enter” without filling out anything resulting in the following message:
Your complaint about Icy Conditions at Enter a Number Select a Street has been reported to staff for inspection
- There’s no feedback. The DPW uses a ticketing system to manage their internal workflow. That is, every report to them is assigned a ticket number in a computer system, and updates about the status of the problem should be added to the ticket until the problem is resolved and the ticket “closed”. Often, cities who use ticketing systems give problem reporters the ticket number and use a web site for people to inquire about the status of their report. There’s no such feedback offered in this tool, nor can you even provide an email address to get a response. Thus, this reporting mechanism is a black hole. If the sidewalk gets cleared, you don’t know whether your report had anything to do with it. And if it doesn’t get cleared, you don’t know whether your report was ignored or whether you should report it again.
- It doesn’t leverage modern technology. Modern smartphones have Global Positioning System chips and thus know where you are. Modern web sites can, with your permission, query that location data and could substitute that location for the cumbersome 837 street drop down list. There are existing services such as SeeClickFix that would provide this function for the city.
Let's hope that this is simply version 1 of a service the DPW intends to improve.
Meanwhile, uncleared sidewalks may also be reported to the the snow hotline at (617) 349-4903, yet another number in the DPW's confusing list of contact points. The DPW web site includes no information about the operating hours of this phone number nor whether messages can be left if it isn't answered.