by Lauren Brousell

How One City Used Smartphones to Fix its Streets

Mar 27, 20122 mins
GovernmentMobileSmall and Medium Business

The CIO of the City of Cambridge, Mass., developed an iPhone and Android app that citizens can use to report potholes, vandalism and other issues and track that they are being fixed.

To report a pothole that could be harmful to your car in the city of Cambridge, Mass., citizens used to have to call city hall and then navigate a series of steps to be connected with the department or person responsible for fixing the issue.

Trouble was, the average caller didn’t know who they needed to reach and often ended up speaking with the wrong person, leaving the problem unresolved. CIO Mary Hart knew citizens needed an easier way to report their concerns.

Hart met with her internal strategy team to brainstorm ideas and then partnered with mobile app developer iSite to create an app for iPhone and Android. The Cambridge iReport app allows smartphone users to report issues in real time and in fewer steps.

Hart first piloted Cambridge iReport through the city’s website to see how much activity it would get. She received 80 reports within the first month and made the decision to skip a pilot of the mobile version and go straight into development.

Rolled out in October 2011, Cambridge iReport can be downloaded for free through the iPhone or Android app store. Hart said she chose to deploy the app on the most popular smartphones and plans to include others, excluding BlackBerry, depending on how much activity the app generates.

The app lets citizens include photos of potholes, burned-out street lights, graffiti and rodent problems, or just send text descriptions. Google Maps marks the location of the issue, and if it’s within six miles of Cambridge, it gets pulled into the city’s work-order system. From there, it’s assigned to the proper city worker.

To close the loop, the citizen who submitted the issue will get a confirmation email saying her complaint was received and can later check on the progress of the problem.

The city spent about $45,000 developing the app and has gotten nearly 500 iPhone downloads and 139 Android downloads through the end of February 2012. In this time, 478 tickets were submitted and 429 of them have been resolved.

Hart has been working to market the app to encourage more users to download it. The city is also looking to allow citizens to report more types of issues, such as missing street signs or excessive noise.

Follow Editorial Assistant Lauren Brousell on Twitter: @lbrousell.