BID GIS app. Photo from ESRI.

Downtown DC Business Improvement District employees use a hand-held geographic information system (GIS) to track public space problems like broken fire hydrants. Could this technology also help DC government employees, like trash collectors?

ESRI, the company that makes the most commonly-used GIS software in the United States, has a quarterly newsletter called ArcNews. The spring issue has a story about a custom program that BID employees use to report issues with the trash cans, park benches, bus shelters, and other public assets in the BID.

The program sounds like a more sophisticated version of the SeeClickFix application that is re-skinned and rebranded as the DC311 app. The 311 app is buggy and could use work to make it more useful, but it’s limited in scope and meant for the public to simply report issues, not address the process from start to finish. The application for the BID employees appears to do just that.

I’ve often watched DC Department of Public Works (DPW) employees in the morning picking up trash in the alley. There are two guys riding on the back of the truck and one driver. Once in the alley, the two employees who jump off the back of the truck methodically empty the supercans into the truck, while the driver slowly trundles the truck down the alley.

What if the driver had a dash-mounted tablet with a program similar to the one the BID workers have? Perhaps he could quickly note things like illegally dumped furniture, potholes, or broken supercan lids.

With a program like the one the BID has, these DPW employees could be an early-warning system for the department, hitting a button to record the location of any of these issues that DPW would have to deal with. It seems like this could be an efficient way to asses problems that the department would need to deal with anyway. The increased workload could be connected to a bonus system of sorts. Drivers that find the most legitimate problems that need to be addressed could receive a commensurate pay increase.

In addition, perhaps some of the features in this program could filter down to the DC311 app in a future update.

Geoff Hatchard lived in DC’s Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff’s writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer.