‘Mobile City Hall’ coming to a corner near you

December 21, 2012
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Starting this month, a “mobile City Hall” in a customized truck started patrolling Boston streets, helping citizens request dog licenses, pay parking tickets and register to vote.

“City Hall To Go,” the first of its kind in the country, will go into regular service next year, but it was already on the streets as part of the City’s Enchanted Trolley Tour, which came to Monument Sqaure and Hyde Square on Dec. 8. City officials are finding out what residents want and where, so the “menu” of services offered and the location schedule can be finalized by the spring.

“Right now, we’re generating awareness, letting [residents] know we’re coming, letting them know what the menu is,” and asking what else residents would like to see offered, said Katharine Lusk, “City Hall To Go” program organizer at the non-mobile City Hall. “Everyone here is very excited. The mayor is thrilled.”

Residents wanting to get a library card, request a birth certificate or resident parking permit, or any of the 15 or so other services already offered will be asked inside the truck.  The interior has two service windows, a large countertop and a small table and chairs, Lusk said.

“We designed the interior to be as flexible as possible,” Lusk said.

The outside is decorated with a Boston street map and the Boston skyline.

The staffing plan is still being developed, but to start, the truck will likely be staffed with “generalists and experts” from City Hall, Lusk said.

“The core staff will be generalists, equipped to answer questions and help with the whole range of transactions,” she said. “We anticipate including experts from specific departments on particular days, or when there is a greater seasonal need for their services. Depending on the time of year or where the truck is parked, we could have staff from the Elderly Commission, Inspectional Services or even the Mayor’s Summer Jobs program.”

All filling and processing will still take place at non-mobile City Hall, she added.

The truck was funded from a streetscape innovation fund in the City’s capital budget—an item “designed to bring new technological advances to the streetscape,” Lusk said.

Streetscape is usually defined as the streets themselves and amenities and furnishings, like benches, that enhance it. Previous projects billed to the streetscape fund include LED street signs and Boston’s upcoming parklets.

The truck cost under $40,000 to refurbish, Lusk said.

According to her, the idea came from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, a competitive $5 million grant given to city initiatives that can “spread innovative local solutions to national problems,” according to its website. While considering options, the idea of a “food-truck inspired” mobile City Hall was proposed.

At the same time, the city was asking for community suggestions for any grant ideas. A mobile City Hall vehicle was suggested.

The final piece fell into place once the City realized that a recently-decommissioned SWAT truck was sitting unused in a parking lot, Lusk said.

“When the mayor realized that it could be very cost-effective to repurpose the truck [instead of buying and modifying one from scratch], that’s when we went from idea to real project,” Lusk said, adding that that same model of truck has been successfully converted into food trucks.

While the Mayors Challenge was the inspiration, “City Hall To Go” was not submitted. The City of Boston submitted another proposal aimed at pushing the development of mobile communication between parents and teachers. It is currently one of 20 finalists for the award.

Like most food trucks, City Hall To Go has a Twitter account, @CityHallToGo. For more information, see cityofboston.gov/cityhalltogo.

The “City Hall to Go” truck during an appearance Dec. 8 in Monument Square. (Photo by Daniella Rascón)