Even as one dialing code makes its slow rollout across the nation, Canada’s largest city is exploring the possibility of offering an abbreviated code that would handle municipal services exclusively. Even if CRTC approval could be obtained quickly, the full service would not be up and running for a year or two, proponents admit.Two years ago the commission issued Decision 2001-475, which permitted the United Way of Greater Toronto to operate a 211 system (NL, Sept. 11/01). Callers who connect to the non-emergency number are able to get information about community, social, health and government services at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. Now the City of Toronto wants to establish a 311 code strictly for local services. It would still employ 911 for emergency services. “It would be the city’s exchange point for any enquiries,” city councillor Brian Ashton explains to Network Letter. “So if there’s a dead cat on the road and I want to get it picked up, I don’t have to think about who’s in the works department or do they do it or somebody else. I phone 311, ‘this is my problem,” boom, they shift you off to where you should be.” The amalgamation of six borough and one regional governments into one larger municipality in 1998 is the catalyst for the new system, Ashton adds. The public became confused about who handled what municipal service. In the initial stages of 311 planning, Toronto will join with Calgary to file an application with the CRTC asking for approval of the new dialing code. Calgary is preparing the filing, while Toronto is weighing whether to formally align itself with the Alberta city or merely submit a letter of support. The commission took about a year to rule on the 211 submission, but resolution of this application should be relatively swift.Ashton concedes that there could be overlap between 211 and 311. He hopes to travel to Houston to see how that city has solved any problems that have arose. Houston is the only city in the United States that features both dialing codes, the councillor reports. “We have to avoid duplication because clearly you fail if people are further confused by your attempts to make it more rational,” he states.Ashton is unable to speculate how much implementation of the 311 system will cost. The issue is currently being handled by city staff, with some work appearing at the information and technology subcommittee of council, which Ashton chairs. If CRTC approval is granted, the city must then resolve technological questions and roll out the system across the city. Ashton is cautious when talking about the timetable for deployment. “It may be optimistic to look at next year. It’s probably realistic to look at the year later,” he speculates. Another possible wrench in the works is the civic elections next November. Ashton says the subcommittee may bring forward a resolution to city council as a whole asking for endorsement of the 311 system. But a new council will be in place following the election, which could delay the endeavour further.