Two million calls to 311


New Yorkers called (or tweeted, wrote to, or texted) 311, the city's non-emergency service hotline, over 2 million times in 2016. Thanks to NYC Open Data, the metadata of each and every single one of those calls is publicly available.

I put together a visual explainer of what they wanted. Click on any of the cells below to drill deeper, or on the title to go back up a level. Caller categories too small to be displayed are included in the footnotes.

We can see right away that 311 is dominated by calls falling in one of six categories:

311 calls are organized according to a fairly well thought-out system, but like any real-world ontology it's one with a lot of quirks and operational carve-outs. For that reason it's a bit difficult to read more deeply in the data: we learn that there are 200 complaints a year specifically about sanitation truck noise, for example, but the data says nothing about complaints about train service, say, or about police reports.

Indeed, a friend of mine who worked as a 311 operator remarked once that not the most common calls, but certainly the longest-lasting, were simply old folks needing someone to talk to. Where do you classify that? It's not as easy as you might think, and even what you see here required a lot of clean up by your author. Nevertheless, we can still make some interesting smaller observations:

Find something interesting yourself? Leave a note in the comments if you do.