Houston, We Have a Pothole Problem
The Solution? The Sharing Economy.
by Noelle Mandell
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fill of talk about potholes. Whether it’s in the political arena or simply your friend lamenting as the bottom of their car scrapes against the pavement, Houstonians are talking about them and want solutions. Many have attempted to come up with the answer to fixing these monstrosities that are obstructing our daily commutes throughout the Bayou City, but to no avail. My favorite examples can be found on one of our local news outlets that brought about the “Pothole Patrol,” which updates the public about the ongoing reports, discrepancies, mishaps, and array of excuses. They reported on the allocation of tens of millions of additional taxpayer dollar that have been designated to go toward repairs, and the subsequent lack of results that we’ve seen come from that, as promised by our outgoing mayor who declared this problem a crisis for Houston. The Pothole Patrol even exposed the bureaucratic processes that have to be navigated in order to get these things fixed, which result in wait times for fixes of at least 5 months upon reporting!
Ron Swanson knows how to address the pothole problem. He’d really scoff at what’s going on in Houston.
Unsurprisingly, the mayoral candidates not only broached this subject, but it literally was one of the prominent topics throughout the recent (and very close) Houston mayoral race. So, last week, as Houston’s newest mayor Sylvester Turner was inaugurated, he announced that his first order of business was to fix these potholes that are burdening Htown. We’ve seen before that after announcements like this there tends to be a huge influx of pothole reports, so naturally, after Mayor Turner declared, “I want to announce that two weeks from today, the potholes that are reported to the city’s 311 information line will be assessed and addressed by the next business day,” people took to the phones and dialed 311 by the droves. The mayor projects that with the incoming reports, the team on hand can handle the newly-proclaimed pothole fixing turnaround, even with the influx of reports—although I don’t think he realized that the reports would raise by 200% in the days following the announcement of his plan.
HOUSTON HEARD MAYOR TURNER’S POTHOLE PROMISEOn Monday new Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner promised to assess, address and fix Houston potholes within 24 hours of being reported to 311 (on business days and provided it’s not too big). Since then the number of reported potholes jumped nearly 200%! Turner says he’s confident the city crews can get the job done and announced they spent today in a “War Room” working on their plan to do it. #abc13
Posted by Ted Oberg on Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Houston is called Hustletown for a reason, and the Public Works department is going to be BUSY. But have no fear; even if the current team becomes too swamped to handle the new load, the mayor made it clear that there will be mechanisms in place to enlist contractors to help. After all, whether they’re being fixed or not, potholes are nature’s job creator, right? *Facepalm*
Right now, when you see a pothole, you are encouraged to say something about that pothole, which means submitting a report to the city. Well, some issues with the whole report and processing system have been noted in the past too, which appear to be an additional obstacle that the city will have to overcome in order to reach the promised turnaround rate. As we have come to know, government institutions don’t always use the most technologically advanced systems and are never as efficient as we wish they would be. An example of that here being that all of the complaints about potholes and other reported road problems go into a big database. Then, these reports are taken and directly addressed by Public Works. Alas, this database has been known to have a multitude of duplicate reports, yet doesn’t necessarily prioritizing them accordingly because it lacks a mechanism in place to flag reports that tons of people have encountered. Basically, this means that they are creating a new report for each complaint and are unable to note that many of them are duplicates or tie the reports together (which should be addressed in a more timely manner).
As a millennial, my mind immediately goes to thinking about how much I love and use Waze, a community traffic and navigation application on my mobile device. There are all kinds of cool things about Waze: from silly things like being able to beep at your friends, to very thorough traffic reports, to really cool and apparently complex facets like being able to report cops and potholes on the road. This app has revolutionized the way I get around and has enabled me to help my community while receiving benefits in turn. Why would the city not look to a solution like that? I’m already reporting potholes on the streets and giving ones already flagged a thumbs up. Big data is a problem a growing city like Houston is going to face. Why not turn to solutions that are already helping process these types of things? Mayor Turner said in his inaugural speech, “It’s critical that our infrastructure keeps pace with our growth and development.” In that light, it is critical for Houston to look to new and innovative solutions for solving decade-long problems such as these.
This’ll really be where the rubber meets the road: If the pothole reports continue to stream in as they have, and the Department of Public Works continues to excuse their inefficiency by making statements about not being able to “perform work when there is rain or temperatures below 50 degrees,” then this seems like an impossible goal to achieve unless major changes are made. It would behoove the city of Houston to embrace the future and turn to ground-breaking solutions in order to achieve positive change. Mayor Turner ran on a platform with this 24-hour repair as a plank, outlining his plans for auditing the Public Works department and holding a comprehensive performance review. If the past speaks as loudly as it should, it will be apparent that the department’s approaches are outdated and that it’s time to look toward alternatives (which aren’t just additional taxes). Even so, I’m skeptical of the whole thing and unfortunately, I foresee a bumpy road ahead.