The U.S. Postal Service is hanging by a thread, and the cause is simple enough. As is the case many times, we want the service, but are not willing to pay for it. And, we insist the service be provided the way we want no matter the cost.
The latest example of all this includes changing delivery methods from curbside to “cluster boxes” and from porch delivery to curbside. Each of those changes would mean the customer would have to walk a few extra steps to get the mail. We don’t want to do that, no matter that it would save the Postal Service a lot of money as it struggles with a $16 billion loss.
Porch delivery is that quaint but convenient method of delivery that requires the letter carrier to walk down the street, pushing the mail through a slot in the door, or putting it in a small box on the porch. On average, it costs $350 per year to provide that service for one customer.
Curbside delivery means that the mail is deposited in a box on the street, and the letter carrier can drive down the street, delivering the mail from the car. That type delivery is lots more efficient; costing around $224 per year per customer for that type delivery.
The cluster boxes are even more efficient. A cluster of boxes would serve one neighborhood, or a couple of streets, and the letter carrier would drive up to the box and deliver 25 or 30 or maybe even 50 packets of mail at one place. The cost of that one is $124 per year for each customer.
So, what happens when the Postal Service makes those possibilities public? The public complains, loudly, to their representatives in Congress. This proposal, though, is part of a larger legislative attempt to help the Postal Service save money. Congress oversees the Postal Service, but allocates no government money. So it is easy for members of Congress to complain loudly about mail delivery while really not having to worry about the funding.
Everyone complains about the post office at one time or another. We have certainly done that. The Postal Service, you see, delivers many copies of The Daily Home, The Coosa Valley Advantage and The St. Clair Times for us.
Their service allows us to get our newspapers to them by 3 a.m. and we are guaranteed same-day delivery. That’s a pretty good deal, but we prefer to complain about what they charge us for that service, or how picky they are about addresses and such and how long it can take for an out-of-county customer to get their paper.
That’s because we are like everyone else. Give us the service, but don’t charge too much for it and do it perfectly every time. Last year the Postal Service determined it could save a lot of money by closing hundreds of post office buildings in small communities around the country. The uproar was quick to come. Those who live in the small communities don’t want to lose their post office. Often, it is the center of social life in those communities.
The uproar reached the ears of Congress, and before it was over only a handful of small post offices were closed, another case of wanting the service, but don’t want to pay for it.
Letter writing has gone out of style these days. The Internet and email have replaced stamps and envelopes and written missives to our friends or family. But some still mail things. Birthday cards, thank-you notes and bill payments are still sent in fairly large numbers through the post office.
We complained like crazy when they went up a few cents on a first-class stamp. It now costs 46 cents to send a letter anywhere in the United States. From Talladega to Sylacauga? 46 cents. From Talladega to New York? 46 cents.
Most other businesses that deliver stuff charge more for far-away places than for nearby places. Not the post office. And can you imagine the uproar if the Postal Service decided to charge on per-mile basis rather than on a weight basis?
Although it is not their official motto or creed, these words are inscribed at a post office building in New York.
“Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stop these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
Lofty goal for a quasi-governmental agency that most times can please no one, or get enough money to do their business the way it should be. Do they meet that goal all the time? Of course not. But they try, and they shared that goal with the rest of us, not something many of us would do.