The Post Office Is Dying Because We Don't Need It Anymore

Illustration for article titled The Post Office Is Dying Because We Don't Need It Anymore

The Post Office is going to die, so says the old pony express. They're strapped for cash, probably defaulting on a $5.5 billion payment due this month and will shut down entirely this winter unless Congress stabilizes its finances. Sad. But we don't really need it anymore.


It's getting really rough for the boys in baby blue, according to the NY Times, the postmaster general, Patrick Donahoe, might get rid of Saturday mail delivery, lay off 120,000 workers and close up to 3,700 post offices—all in an effort to lessen the post office's deficit, which will be $9.2 billion this fiscal year. Why? Well, labor costs too much and revenue is down.

The post office will handle an estimated 167 billion pieces of mail this year, that's down 22% from 5 years ago. It's expected to dip under 120 billion by 2020. Truthfully, I imagine it'll drop even quicker than that. Everything that's sent through snail mail can get done faster, cheaper and easier through e-mail. Sometimes, you don't even need e-mail actually. I mean, what's "important" that you get through the mail now?

Magazines, Bills, Invoices, Stuff that requires your signature? Birthday cards, maybe?

Tablet versions of a magazine, electronic bills, PayPal, apps like Sign It! and the fact that you're getting older have replaced all those itty bitty pieces of USPS mail—44 cents a pop saved for us, revenue lost for them. Heck, the only thing I need a physical mailing address for these days is to get physical packages from Amazon, UPS and FedEx do just fine and do it with lower labor costs (53% of its expenses for UPS, 32% for FedEx compared with 80% with the USPS)—the private delivery services just run more efficiently as a business. Every other piece of mail from a love letter to catalogs to spam to a thank you note, just e-mail me. I've changed my mailing address every year for the past 5 years and probably will do it again next year. My e-mail? It'll be the same.

I'm hopeful, of course, that the post office can find a way to survive, if only so people can keep their jobs. The USPS has long been home to generous benefits and good perks, but the old pony express is going to have to get creative to stay alive and I'm not so sure they can. [NY Times, Image Credit: mjay/Shutterstock]

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While I agree cutting delivery days makes sense, it isn't that easy. Mondays are especially heavy with volume due to no mail delivery on Sunday. Monday delivery is basically Saturday+Sunday's mail being delivered. The mail still processes on holidays and Sundays, but doesn't get delivered until the next "business day" for the Postal Service.

Cutting three days, or delivering mail to specific neighborhoods a couple of times a week would lead to very, very heavy delivery days, each day, all the time (even though mail flow is dropping). When a carrier has "too much" mail (read: usually not working hard enough), they have to pass it off to another carrier who is on the "Overtime Desired List." They simply cannot work everyone overtime, because the carriers have the option to work OT or not. Heavier mail delivery days would result in a required increase in personnel were the union not to change. The only times I ever needed "help" was because of a Monday holiday (Saturday + Sunday + Monday's mail delivery in one day).

What needs to severely change is the way the union stomps all over management. The routes need to be extended as mail flow drops. They are not extending at nearly a fast enough rate, or nearly far enough. As a carrier I was delivering 3 routes a day. Granted, I am in my twenties, and some of the carriers are in their early 40s. Some routes (specifically the shop steward's) would take me only 45 minutes to deliver the entire route! It was scheduled for 6 hours! Also, please note that the steward is VERY fit, much more so than I am (extremely muscular, no injuries). I would pull three, 6 hour routes, and a 2 hour collection route (cannot be sped up whatsoever) in EIGHT hours. The union stomps on the managers, who are then unable to extend the routes based on mail flow, which leads to more OT being used, or more temporary help being hired (temps typically get paid ~$20/hour or more, veteran carriers are only at about $25/hour).

They also seemed to be giving "freebies" to carriers when there were circulars in the mail flow; which was three days a week at a minimum. A way to combat this is to REMOVE the address from the circular so they can't be "misdelivered" (yes, people complain about their Pennysaver being misdelivered). The carriers would receive between 30 minutes and an hour of help a day, just because of the circulars! The routes are calculated WITH the circulars in mind! It takes zero effort to deliver a "third bundle" (circular) if there is no address associated with it. You don't have to look at it, you just have to pull one out of the satchel and throw it in the box. Chances are good you already have the mail in your hand for the next address before you reach the box anyway.

The union bases their delivery estimates with old mail volumes in mind. A typical park-and-loop would take 15-20 minutes, where a tray of mail for a driving route takes about an hour. On a light day, you may have 2 or 3 trays of mail for the entire driving route. How is that going to take 6 hours? You don't spend the other 3 driving from box-to-box, that's for sure. As volume drops, it's ridiculous to expect the delivery time to stay the same or increase.

I guess I'll stop my rant there.