Connect with us


Toronto is known for dead raccoons and potholes. The city’s 311 nerve centre knows this reputation is well-earned




In a new series, the Star delves into 311 data to see what our concerns say about the city. In the first instalment, we go behind the curtain at 311’s headquarters and learn that, with our Top 5 gripes, we’re living up to our raccoon-loving, pothole-hating reputation.

One of the strangest calls Toronto’s 311 service has ever received came during the 2015 Pan-Am games: someone wanted to know if a dead body would qualify them to drive in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane.

Director Gary Yorke stands at the centre of 311 Toronto’s headquarters on John St. The service answers roughly 4,000 calls a day — 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year in 180 languages.
Director Gary Yorke stands at the centre of 311 Toronto’s headquarters on John St. The service answers roughly 4,000 calls a day — 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year in 180 languages.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

The answer was no, recalls Gary Yorke, director of 311 Toronto, from behind his desk overlooking the floor at the call centre’s Metro Hall headquarters on John St.

A client solution rep, or CSR as they’re known, told the caller (who was travelling in a hearse) that to travel in the lane, all persons in the vehicle must be alive.

It was one of two strange calls that stuck out for Yorke, who’s been in his role for about three and a half years.

“The other one is ‘I have a turkey on for three hours, when should I take it out?’” says Yorke, with a laugh.

Up two escalators at 55 John St., the 311 nerve centre is a place where white noise streams through speakers to calm the din of employees taking roughly 4,000 calls each day on everything from garbage pickup up to dead animals — 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year in 180 languages.

In a city that tops Canada’s worst roads lists every year and where the unofficial mascot is a raccoon, 311 operatives may have the best gauge of Toronto’s day-to-day affairs, with the service’s data backing up the city’s reputation.

Toronto’s Top 5 service requests for 2018 so far, according to 311’s own analysis provided to the Star, are: storm cleanup (13,884), pot holes (11,631), wildlife cadavers (11,356), injured or distressed wildlife (10,432), and property standards related to bylaw enforcement (10,087).

“I think that our residents are concerned about our infrastructure, the property that they use every day. They’re very intelligent and diligent about it, and they require responses and information,” Yorke says.

Given wildlife concerns made two of the top five spots, the data suggests #DeadraccoonTO, the critter whose body was honoured with an impromptu viral memorial in 2015, was far from a unique occurrence.

In fact, 311 data from many municipalities seem to suggest you can know a place by what it grumbles about.

In New York, the top service request, according to the city’s open data portal, aside from “other” is “noise-residential.”

On the other side of the continent in San Francisco, one of the most unaffordable cities in the world, one of the top calls were of “encampment reports,” which refer to homeless camps, according to that city’s own open data.

Vancouver’s top service requests, spokesperson Jag Sandhu says, are for street tree work.

The types of service requests that come in to Toronto’s 311 are “relatively the same” over the years, says Yorke, with pitfalls such as potholes, property standards, garbage pickup and noise reoccurring.

The area of the city with the most service requests (going by the old 44-ward model) is Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence (10,228, according to 311) followed by Ward 25, Don Valley West (10,181) and Ward 22, St. Paul’s (9,965). Ward 8, York West had the least at 4,045, by 311’s stats. Data is not available for the new 25 wards.

With nearly 650 categories, less popular requests range from dogs off leash (400 in 2018, according to open data), to sewer odour (465), bees/wasps (265) appliance emergency (58) and sinkholes (780).

But Yorke is quick to point out that he doesn’t see them as “complaints.”

“There will always be complaints,” he says. Service requests make up about 30 per cent of calls — people calling, for example, about a pothole that needs to be fixed. But about 70 per cent of their business is just “general inquiries,” questions staff can easily answer.

They don’t consider a call a complaint unless the city worker who comes to fix something is, say, really rude or runs over the family dog in the process.

On a recent November day at the call centre — a sun-filled space that was once home to preamalgamation Metro Council — a few Halloween decorations are still up: caution tape, witches and cobwebs.

“Because of the stressful nature of the business, you gotta have fun,” Yorke says.

On the wall, flanked by two TVs, one playing CP24 and the other CNN, is a huge screen showing how many callers are in the queue (15), how many employees are on calls (18), and how many are not ready — maybe making notes or going to the washroom (16).

It’s a barometer Yorke is constantly monitoring.

“This screen is our lifeline,” he says. “No call’s the same.”

They have a council mandate to answer 80 per cent of calls within 75 seconds, he adds, a target they’re proud of exceeding last year, with a wait time of “about 44 seconds.”

The challenge is when there’s a “major event” such as a storm or a very confusing city election, and calls skyrocket.

The nerve centre at 311 Toronto with its screen showing how many callers are in the queue, how many employees are on calls, and how many are not ready -- perhaps making notes or going to the washroom.
The nerve centre at 311 Toronto with its screen showing how many callers are in the queue, how many employees are on calls, and how many are not ready — perhaps making notes or going to the washroom.  (Steve Russell)

The 311 team doesn’t actually handle the issues themselves, but either get information for people or direct the service requests to the appropriate city divisions.

“The way I see it is like, we’re like the coach,” Yorke says. “The coach calls the plays, but the players execute the play.”

The first 311 system in North America was launched in Baltimore, Md., in 1996, with the help of a $300,000 federal grant, reported the Baltimore Sun at the time.

It was an experiment to see if a non-emergency public line could help ease the burden for a congested 911 system. The Sun noted 60 per cent of the 1.8 million 911 calls Baltimore police dispatchers answered the previous year were for nonemergencies.

“People call 911 for everything from directions to the ballpark to the removal of double-parked cars,” read the article.

The 311 model proved popular and soon other major cities such as Chicago, L.A and, in 2003, New York adopted it.

Toronto’s 311 service was officially launched in September 2009 as a way to centralize city services and “make it easier for the resident” to access the city, without having to search through multiple divisions, Yorke says.

With an annual budget of about $18.6 million, 311 now has 3.4 million contacts a year compared to 1.5 million about three years ago. That figure includes contacts by phone, Twitter, email and visitors to their online “knowledge base,” a kind of self-serve for city information.

There were 359,671 service requests in 2018 so far, according to 311’s own open data posted on the city’s website. That’s compared to 396,379 for all of 2017 and 406,291 in 2016, up from 254,218 in 2010, the first year data is available.

Yorke describes 311 Toronto as “going through an evolutionary stage,” adding they have people coming from places such as Shanghai, Sweden, Finland and Botswana to learn from them.

“It’s kind of cool to just find out what other people are doing,” he says. “We all have the same pains.”

At the call centre there’s a sense of calm, even though it’s a hive of activity on this recent weekday.

On a pillar is a poster about “customer connections,” showing, fittingly, two raccoons navigating a call with “active listening,” “empathy” and “personal connection.”

“I haven’t had garbage in weeks!” says one. “I understand,” responds the other.

“The new green bin locks are just too good.” “Ha Ha!”

Yorke sits behind a desk that overlooks the floor. Behind him are Spiderman mugs and figurines — a way to connect with staff, he says.

And, like the superhero, 311 does have a role to play in watching over the city. It’s the control centre that keeps Toronto ticking, one dead raccoon at a time.

“From a moral compass, with power comes responsibility,” says Yorke.

“Basically we’re one of the organizations that really doesn’t sleep, and we have really a good pulse of what’s going on in the city.”

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11


Source link

قالب وردپرس


‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal




MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

Continue Reading


Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow




Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

Continue Reading


Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise




Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

Continue Reading


Sex2 semaines ago

Dix films avec des scènes de sexe non simulées qui ont fait polémique

Sex2 semaines ago

Sexe et cannabis : mélange miraculeux ou poison pour le couple ?

Sex2 semaines ago

Chantage émotionnel, dénigrement, harcèlement sexuel : Une jeune scientifique écrit aux comités nationaux d’éthique

Sex2 semaines ago

10 films sur le sexe et le plaisir pour oublier la distanciation sociale

Sex2 semaines ago

Les meilleurs sextoys pour le clitoris

Sex2 semaines ago

Dua Lipa, la reine du melting-pop qui allège le quotidien confiné de ses millions de fans

Sex2 semaines ago

Une série d’ici primée à l’étrange

Technologie3 semaines ago

TELUS adopte une nouvelle promesse de marque

Technologie3 semaines ago

La tech agricole Farmers Edge entre en Bourse à 18 fois ses revenus

Technologie3 semaines ago

NEC Canada accueille Combat Networks en tant que revendeur officiel de UNIVERGE® BLUE CLOUD SERVICES

Technologie3 semaines ago

La relance économique sera verte dans le Bas-Saint-Laurent

Technologie3 semaines ago

Ottawa injecte 2,75 milliards $ pour électrifier la flotte d’autobus au pays

Technologie3 semaines ago

L’entreprise montréalaise Native Touch fait l’acquisition du studio Candy Banners

Actualités3 semaines ago

Lionbridge conclut la vente de sa division d’intelligence artificielle (IA) à TELUS International

Actualités3 semaines ago

Le rôle stratégique et essentiel des métaux rares pour la santé

Actualités3 semaines ago

«Crypto-art» : l’œuvre numérique de la chanteuse Grimes vendue 6 millions de dollars

Actualités3 semaines ago

Un rapport révèle des inégalités pour les femmes de couleur dans les postes de direction canadiens qui font écho au secteur de la technologie

Actualités3 semaines ago

La demande de main-d’œuvre des startups canadiennes montre des signes de reprise au quatrième trimestre: rapport

Actualités3 semaines ago

En attendant la fibre optique

Affaires4 semaines ago

L’Alberta demande à Ottawa d’investir des milliards dans la capture du carbone

Anglais2 années ago

Body found after downtown Lethbridge apartment building fire, police investigating – Lethbridge

Styles De Vie2 années ago

Salon du chocolat 2018: les 5 temps forts

Anglais2 années ago

This B.C. woman’s recipe is one of the most popular of all time — and the story behind it is bananas

Santé Et Nutrition2 années ago

Gluten-Free Muffins

Anglais2 années ago

27 CP Rail cars derail near Lake Louise, Alta.

Anglais2 années ago

Man facing eviction from family home on Toronto Islands gets reprieve — for now

Santé Et Nutrition2 années ago

We Try Kin Euphorics and How to REALLY Get the Glow | Healthyish

Anglais2 années ago

Ontario’s Tories hope Ryan Gosling video will keep supporters from breaking up with the party

Anglais2 années ago

A photo taken on Toronto’s Corso Italia 49 years ago became a family legend. No one saw it — until now

Anglais3 années ago

Condo developer Thomas Liu — who collected millions but hasn’t built anything — loses court fight with Town of Ajax

Styles De Vie3 années ago

Renaud Capuçon, rédacteur en chef du Figaroscope

Anglais2 années ago

This couple shares a 335-square-foot micro condo on Queen St. — and loves it

Mode2 années ago

Paris : chez Cécile Roederer co-fondatrice de Smallable

Anglais2 années ago

Ontario Tories argue Trudeau’s carbon plan is ‘unconstitutional’

Styles De Vie2 années ago

Ford Ranger Raptor, le pick-up roule des mécaniques

Affaires2 années ago

Le Forex devient de plus en plus accessible aux débutants

Anglais2 années ago

100 years later, Montreal’s Black Watch regiment returns to Wallers, France

Technologie2 années ago

YouTube recommande de la pornographie juvénile, allègue un internaute

Anglais2 années ago

Trudeau government would reject Jason Kenney, taxpayers group in carbon tax court fight

Anglais2 années ago

Province’s push for private funding, additional stops puts Scarborough subway at risk of delays