Bridge City, Texas, Gets 311 Smartphone App

While there currently is no phone-based 311 system, residents can still call city hall or drop by to report any problems.

(TNS) -- Starting early next year, Bridge City residents can report broken streetlights, potholes, high grass or trash problems to the city with the click of a smartphone app.

City Council voted unanimously this week to adopt a new electronic reporting system called LUKE, which stands for Let Us Know Everything. LUKE works somewhat like the 311 system used in larger cities like Beaumont that allows residents to report problems by phone, email or mobile app.

Bridge City residents with iPhones or smartphones with the Android operating system can download the free LUKE app, which will allow them to send photos and a description of the problem to a central system managed by the city and LJA Engineering, the Houston-based firm that created the software.

Residents can track the progress of their request through updates sent by the app.

City Councilman Kirk Roccaforte, who voted in favor of the new app, said he was concerned that LJA markets LUKE as being comparable to the 311 system. Roccaforte said some residents could mistakenly think the city was getting a 311 phone system. It is not.

"We have a lot of elderly citizens in this community," he said. "You get this information out to them, and they're going to start dialing 311."

While there is no 311 system, City Manager Jerry Jones said residents who do not use the app can call city hall or drop by to report any problems, which is what they've already been doing.

Bridge City Mayor David Rutledge said the city decided to get the LUKE app as part of the city's push to be more accessible to all of its residents.

"We've been talking about making the government more open and accessible," said Rutledge. The city hopes to have LUKE up and running by mid-January, he said.

City Council has been talking about adopting a non-emergency reporting system for more than a year and looked at several other systems before deciding on LUKE, said Jones.

"The biggest hang-up is we couldn't afford them," Jones said.

LUKE will cost the city an upfront payment of $5,000 to install the software on city computers and to train city employees on how to use it. LUKE also has two options for monthly hosting plans, which cost either $100 or $300.

The more expensive monthly option would make LJA Engineering responsible for sorting through complaints and sending the city only those that are its responsibility. The cheaper option would require that city employees sort through all complaints and send non-relevant issues back to LJA Engineering.

Under both plans, LJA Engineering is responsible for directing issues that are not the city's responsibility to the correct outside agency, like the Texas Department of Transportation or the county, and updating the resident and the city on the progress of the complaint.

The city council will review both options with the accounting department before choosing a plan.

The LUKE system is used by the cities of Sugar Land and Stafford as well as Harris County, according to LJA's website.

Beaumont uses the 311 system, which is used in most major U.S. cities and all of Texas' major metro areas.

Port Arthur has a smartphone app similar to LUKE, called Port Arthur Synergy.

Nederland City Manager Christopher Duque said Nederland does not have a formal system like LUKE or 311 for reporting non-emergency issues. Duque said the city has considered getting a system but said residents are already able to send their issues to the city through phone or social media.

"That's probably not the most efficient way of doing that, but it's not like that system's not working," he said.

Port Neches City Manager Andre Wimer said the city had looked at some of the options for systems but felt there wasn't enough public demand to adopt one.

Vidor Mayor Robert Viator said city council is interested in a system and would probably contact Bridge City's Jones next year to see how the LUKE system was working.

"I know some cities are moving that direction, but with all small cities, cost is a consideration," Viator said.

©2016 the Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, Texas) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.