Scooter Scouts to the city's rescue

February 27, 2008 8:33:46 PM PST
New York City has a new group of crusaders. They will surprise you with how they get around, and they will please you with what they're doing. They are using high technology to phone in problems to the city's 311 line. They phone them in long before you ever see them.

Eyewitness News reporter Jeff Rossen has the story.

We hit the road with a street warrior in battle.

"It's a great experience," Alan Alvarado said.

Alvarado is a New York City scooter scout. Or as people call him, "Who? Riding a what?"

"They ask me what it is I am doing, and I explain to them what the program is," he said.

Alan and 15 other scouts are part of a new hi-tech city program. They zigzag in an orange scooter across every single block in every single borough every single day, spotting quality-of-life problems before you do.

When Alan locks on a target from the window of his three-wheeler, out comes his Blackberry. It's loaded with a special GPS program. Alan quickly punches in the type of problem, from graffiti to faded crosswalk paint to potholes.

Next, he types in the exact address, and the signal shoots out of his device, through the air and instantly into the mayor's office at City Hall. It cuts out the 311 operator that would normally take the call.

"I've noticed the graffiti being painted over, being fixed," Alan said. "I've seen potholes and cracked sidewalks getting fixed as well...that I've reported."

Here's the beauty of the technology. Alan and the other drivers never even have to get out of the scooter. They only spend 30 seconds or less at every stop, meaning they can hit as many as 100 problem areas every single day.

"Mayor Bloomberg came into city government coming from the private sector," Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler said. "And one of the things he wanted to do was take what was 20th Century government and make it 21st Century government. So having inspectors out with Blackberries is part that."

Officials say 18,000 reports have been filed since October. They file complaints traveling at the speed of light, while they roll along at 25 miles per hour.