More Mailboxes, Less Mail

How will the mounting deficit at the Postal Service affect rural mail delivery?
By Marilyn Jones
More Mailboxes, Less Mail

E-mail, electronic bill-paying, online advertising — it all has sent the U.S. Postal Service into a financial tailspin.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. It ended its third fiscal quarter (April 1–June 30) with a net loss of $5.2 billion, compared to a net loss of $3.1 billion for the same period last year.

In 2006, the Postal Service processed and delivered 213 billion pieces of mail. In 2011 this total fell to 168 billion.

"Add to the decrease in mail volume the fact we add an average of about 2,300 delivery points to our network every day and you have the perfect storm," said postal spokesman Carl Walton, who is based in Greensboro. "We're delivering less mail to more addresses."

So what does this mean to rural customers?

The postal presence

One of the proposals the Postal Service has on the table to help its cash-strapped business is five-day delivery.

"The Postal Service believes five-day delivery will reduce our operating costs significantly," Walton said. "We've heard from our customers. They have already responded in various surveys that it's acceptable to them as long as it allows us to keep the Postal Service — and universal service nationwide — in business. We're just waiting on our legislators now.

"Plus, even with five-day delivery, post offices would remain open six days a week," he added. "The Postal Service predicts five-day delivery will save it $3.1 billion a year."

The Postal Service also is moving forward with a plan to keep rural post offices across the nation open by reducing operating hours based on customer use. Known as Post Plan, the process will be phased in over the next two years to be completed in September 2014.

Walton said that most Americans have said that "they don't want the Postal Service to take away their post offices. This way, even with reduced hours, there will be a post office in every community."

Projected annual savings, once the plan is implemented, is $500 million. In North Carolina there are 234 small post offices on the Post Plan list — from Albertson to Zionville — where operating hours would be cut to six, four or two hours per day. It is a preliminary list that is subject to change.

"This will preserve rural post offices while being a part of the framework to save the Postal Service money," said Walton. "This is all part of the plan to return the organization to financial stability. Access to the retail lobby and to PO boxes will remain unchanged, and the town's ZIP code and community identity will be retained."

Village Post Office

Another option is known as Village Post Offices. VPOs are located within existing businesses — convenience stores and other local establishments — and are managed by the proprietors. Located inside places residents already frequent, VPOs can save postal customers time and could operate at longer hours than regular post offices while offering the usual services of mail boxes, stamps and other products. Some 70,000 alternate access locations already are seen at such places as Wal-Mart, Staples, Office Depot, Walgreens, Sam's Club and Costco.

In addition to maintaining more than 31,000 post offices, the Postal Service also provides online access to products and services through www.usps.com.

"Meeting the needs of postal customers is, and will always be, a top priority. We continue to balance that by better aligning service options with customer demands and reducing the cost to serve," said Postmaster General and CEO Patrick R. Donahoe. "With that said, we've listened to our customers in rural America and we've heard them loud and clear — they want to keep their post office open."

Is your post office on the Plan?

See if your post office is on the list of offices where hours could be cut back between now and September 2014. Download pdf.

About the Author

Marilyn Jones is a freelance writer with an expertise in Postal Service issues.

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