Apps to fix Philadelphia, track SEPTA, and more

Posted: March 14, 2013

A proliferation of place-specific apps can help you catch a bus, stop blight, or drop the dime on municipal fraud.

Many cities have released "311" apps that help individuals report potholes, illegal dumping, and the like to the proper authorities without a lot of phoning, running around, and filing of forms. There are NYC 311, Baltimore 311, Grand Rapids 311, and so on.

Philly311 is a free app for Android and Apple devices. Its maker, PublicStuff, has a roster of apps for municipalities around the country under titles such as Fix It Plano for that North Texas town and DigiTally for the good citizens of Tallahassee, Fla.

With Philly311, if you spot an eyesore - say graffiti on a building or a mattress by the roadside - tap the "New Request" icon on the menu screen. The app detects your location, and then you choose the type of issue that needs to be fixed - abandoned car, fallen tree, pothole, or whatever. On the next screen, write a description and, if you like, attach a photo of the spot where the problem is. Add your name and a contact number, and tap "Submit." You'll get a notice when your request is received - and when the problem is fixed.

Since GPS coordinates aren't foolproof, it's a good idea to provide location information that is as specific as possible in making your request. And don't expect to hear sirens and see flashing lights at the scene within minutes. The app is for non-emergencies - it will be days before your problem is addressed.

You can see other pending service requests and their status, comment on those requests, and share them on Twitter and Facebook. Among the app's uses, it will display property histories from Philadelphia's Department of Licenses and Inspections and has contact numbers for helping the homeless and other services.

If you travel via SEPTA, try out some of the apps that use data straight from the transit agency to map routes and track bus and train positions. These include Daniel Watson's SEPTA Instant for Android and TransitLive, from Zervaas Enterprises for Apple. TransitLive works for a number of cities, including Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago, and this year it added a slate of West Coast towns.

Philly Watchdog, for Apple and Android, is an app from the Philadelphia City Controller's Office for reporting "fraud, waste and abuse" in the city.

Controller Alan Butkovitz, who is running for reelection, is pictured on the app's opening screen.

From the menu, you may file a report, phone the controller's office directly, or visit its website. The heart of the app is a screen where you write a description of the fraud you wish to report. You can tap icons to take a picture or record video. Then, hit "Submit."


Contact Reid Kanaley at 215-854-5114, rkanaley@phillynews.com or @ReidKan on Twitter.

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