Targeting roads, bridges for repair a commendable use of social media

An increasing number of municipalities have set up programs asking residents to report damage to infrastructure such as roads and bridges through smartphones and social media in an attempt to speed up responses and reduce costs.

This is certainly a useful system for both residents and local governments.

Municipal roads account for about 80% of all roads across the nation, and about 70% of all bridges are on municipal roads. Roads and bridges built and developed in the 1960s and ’70s, during the period of rapid economic growth, are becoming decrepit.

Many of the municipalities tasked with their maintenance and management are facing manpower shortages due to workforce reductions as populations decline. Amid such a situation, it has become challenging to effectively inspect local infrastructure and ensure its safety.

The city of Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture began operating a system using the free communication app Line in May.

When residents find a hole or crack in the road, they can take a picture and send it to the city’s official Line account. Municipal employees can identify the location based on smartphone geotagging information. If the location is on a national or prefectural road, the report will be passed along to the central or prefectural governments.

In the past, the city handled such information through phone calls or emails, but it was sometimes time-consuming to identify the location of the site and confirm the extent of damage. The city government said that since the start of the test run of the new system in October last year, Kamakura has received nearly 300 reports of damage, and it has made repairs in 80% of cases.

Chiba and other municipalities have introduced a special smartphone app that allows residents to view photos of the repairs.

This is surely an example of how strengthening cooperation with residents through smartphones and social media can improve administrative services and reduce the burden on municipal workers. It may also raise residents’ sense of participation in local administration.

Some local governments are accepting information on damage to playground equipment and illegal dumping of garbage. Local governments must devise ways to use such information tailored to local situations, in order to create a more comfortable community through cooperation with residents.

It is of course also important to pay attention to the adverse effects of using social media and take measures to avoid them.

It is possible that some people will falsify positioning information on photos and submit misleading reports as pranks. A mechanism is needed to determine the authenticity of the information and take appropriate action.

The city of Hiroshima has been accepting information about damage to roads and parks through Line, but it suspended the service from March to June due to concerns about the misuse of personal information. The city reopened the system after modifying it so that it does not involve the names and phone numbers of those who provide information.

Each local government must also take all possible measures to manage information.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 17, 2021.