Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Big changes afoot for the Postal Service

The news this morning is that the Postal Service is planning a big announcement.

I suspect it’s that the age of six-day delivery is over. (Among other things.) It’s about time.

I went to work for the Postal Service in January 1983, fresh from four years of Marine Corps service and several months of unemployment and a Christmas-rush job at UPS. At orientation, we were told the situation was dire, and that about 100,000 postal jobs might have to be cut.

Being low on the seniority list, we might have a short postal career, we were told.

Still, things turned around and I worked and worked, nights and weekends, doing my part to get the mail out in the Hicksville, N.Y., Sectional Center Facility, and then the new Western Nassau, N.Y., SCF. In late 1985, I began planning a move to Florida and ended up at the West Palm Beach General Mail Facility at 3200 Summit Blvd.

For 11 years, through crises, worries about violence and more, I plugged away, and for the last six years, I worked while mostly focused on attending college. Thanks to postal pay and benefits (and Florida’s public colleges), I was able to get a bachelor’s degree and even some graduate work in without incurring a penny of student loan debt.

I moved on in my life in June 1994 and have worked in journalism.

When I was at the Vero Beach Press-Journal in 2001, I had a chance to write a weekly column, and I said that the Postal Service should switch to five-day delivery. The savings in not sending out the huge fleet of vehicles on Saturday would be enormous, even if gas prices fell, and reworking schedules so virtually all employees were on a Monday-Friday schedule would cut costs (because few would collect the 25 percent Sunday premium) and lift morale.

Back then, the notion of five-day delivery was dismissed, but I think it’s time. The Washington Post story noted that the belief is that this time mail volume is not going to recover to pre-recession levels. There’s a real, viable alternative to postal delivery – the Internet – and it’s become an accepted part of life in 2010. Cutting out Saturday delivery will mean fuller mailboxes on Monday, but not by that much.

It’s akin to all the talk years ago of the need to simplify federal taxes. When people had to fill out paper forms, their complexity was an issue. Today, most people file their taxes on a computer. Who cares if it’s too complicated if a computer is doing all the brain work? Of course, federal taxes probably should be simpler, but the computer makes the job less of a chore.

Likewise, I don’t think a reduction to five-day delivery will cause that much heartache, if the Postal Service focuses on five good days of delivery. Of course, I understand that there are people who need medications delivered, and maybe some alternate way can be found so they do not have to go without needed medications over a long weekend.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we were told that the threat to the Postal Service was “alternative delivery.” These services couldn’t put anything in the mailbox, but they could hang a plastic bag from the doorknob. (I got my FPL bill that way when I first moved to Florida.) Magazines were running experiments in some areas with people who had other jobs and no need for benefits from the job, and who wanted to make extra money.

They’d assemble at a convenience store parking lot early in the morning, pick up their magazines and fan out to deliver them.

For most people, the sanctity of the mailbox held firm, and I didn’t hear much about alternative delivery after the first experiments. I think most people just wanted their magazines in the regular mail and not left exposed to the elements.

Today, there is a viable alternative and it’s reaching into everything. I receive The New Yorker through the mail and could, if I want, also read it online. Someday, we may really be able to download all our newspapers. The Times Reader is a step in that direction, and more projects are afoot.

Technologically, the Postal Service is turning into America Online. Once, AOL ruled when it came to the online world; today, it’s a stub.

But just like paper newspapers and magazines will still be around for a while, the Postal Service will be around in a changed format. We can lament all we want, and rant about the unfairness of it all, but change is happening and there will come a day when we won’t think it unusual to get mail five days a week.

There was a time when the Postal Service could have been called the “Stasis Service.” You took a job there because you believed that nothing would ever change. Every day was like the one before, and your job was the same. Some found it fulfilling, others found it infuriating. I started out as the former and became the latter.

I learned in this world that stasis is but a dream. The world is changing, and you have to change with it.

The Postal Service is reluctant to face its need for change, but now I think it really will.

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March 2, 2010 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , ,

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