Does Houston Really Fill 93 Percent of Its Potholes the Next Business Day?


Ryan Holeywell | February 17, 2016A new Kinder Institute study evaluates Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's record on filling potholes.


A new Kinder Institute study evaluates Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's record on filling potholes.

Since he took office at the start of the year, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has emphasized his success at filling potholes.

It may seem like a mundane issue, but potholes have vexed many Houston drivers, and they became a major theme of last year's mayoral campaign.

Last month, Turner's administration issued a press release touting its success at filling potholes quickly. "Despite the more than 1,000 percent increase in service requests, city crews are maintaining an impressive next business day repair rate of more than 90 percent," the city wrote.

The city asked the Kinder Institute to double check its work, and the verdict is in: those figures are accurate. The findings are contained in the new Kinder Institute report published today.

Kinder Institute researchers Kyle Shelton and Kelsey Walker sought to reproduce the way the city came to its conclusions in order to verify the accuracy of the city's claim. "Based on the city's current methodology," they wrote in the new study, "the Institute's analysis confirms the accuracy of the City’s advertised rate of citizen-reported potholes filled by the next business day, a number that fluctuated between 93-96 percent for most of January 2016."

But, they said, the city could make some clarifications that would improve citizens' understanding of those figures.

The city strives to fill potholes by the end of the business day following the day of the initial 311 report. But when city officials say about 93 percent of potholes are filled on time, they're not referring to 93 percent of all the 311 reports. They're only referring to those that were eventually filled in. For some observers, it might be unclear that this is what the figure refers to.

Sometimes, it may take additional time to evaluate a 311 report of a pothole. And in other cases, the city simply doesn't fill a pothole (for example, if the hole isn't deemed a safety hazard or if it's on a road that's maintained by a different jurisdiction). The Kinder Institute report recommends that the city provide more information on the outcomes of 311 pothole reports -- including those that aren't fixed by the city -- to reduce some of the confusion in this area.

Moreover, it's not always clear to observers what the city means when it says it works to fill potholes by the next business day. For the city, "on time" repair means repair completed by the end of the next business day following the report. But due to holidays and weekends, the average "deadline" the city sets for itself is 45 hours.

The report recommends the city take steps to clarify what, exactly, "on time" means, since some observers might assume the city's next-business day goal could mean it strives for an 8-hour or 24-hour repair deadline.

Ryan Holeywell
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