The U.S. Postal Service has announced a plan to close hundreds of mail processing centers, to stem its red ink. This will delay all deliveries, and virtually eliminate any next-day delivery for ordinary mail. Meantime, there has already been a round of post office closings, and a further round is in process.
For me, running an active mail order business, this is a big deal. My local post office was closed in April. Though initially told my P.O. Box could be moved to another (equidistant) post office with no address change, this was not done. The address change (which they botched) was a major hassle. And now that I’ve settled into the new post office, it too is on the chopping block. I’ll be moved again, to a smaller post office, rather farther away, with inadequate parking, and likely longer lines.
The Postal Service’s financial trouble is understandable. The internet is eating its lunch. I used to mail over a thousand pricelists annually that I now send by e-mail. And many customers now pay me electronically too.
But surely the answer is not to keep mindlessly raising prices and degrading service. That’s a death spiral. The higher the prices, the poorer the service, the greater the inconvenience, ever more mailers will look ever harder for ways to avoid using the Postal Service altogether. Netflix, for example, has had a nice thing going with its quick turn-around, and must be contributing mightily to postal revenues. Kill next-day delivery and you probably kill Netflix – or at least the Netflix service using the U.S. mail. Great thinking, Postal Service guys.
Of course one doesn’t expect great thinking from a bloated quasi-governmental quasi-monopoly bureaucracy.
Here’s some more great thinking it has produced. In the past, postal rates were based on weight and distance. Now they’re based on weight, distance, size, shape, and thickness, a crazy-quilt of different rates that nobody can really apply properly. (And, when they change prices, just try getting them to provide you with the new rate charts.)
Actually, if service must be cut (and it probably must) the no-brainer would be to end six-day delivery. At least that would not be a serious imposition on mailers like me. While eliminating Saturday delivery has been discussed, I have a better idea: Tuesday. Cutting Saturday would create a 3-day gap between deliveries (and a Monday pile-up); Tuesday, only a 2-day gap. Further, because so much mail is already delivered on Mondays, Tuesdays are very light mail days. Yet all the carriers still have to make their rounds. Eliminating this would be a huge and sensible efficiency.
But the problem is that any such change requires Congressional approval. ‘Nuff said. Even if Congress were not so dysfunctional anyway, why would a Congressperson risk the inevitable “He voted to cut your . . . “ campaign ad? Acting responsibly carries little political reward in today’s America, it seems.
It’s easy to make mock, but this is serious. American “exceptionalism”? I’d be happy with American normalcy. Fact is, in a lot of ways, we are on a path to becoming a second rate country. Normalcy among advanced nations in today’s world, in things like rail service, airports, broadband, and other aspects of infrastructure, is at a higher level than what we’ve got. Normalcy is a health care system that costs less than ours and produces outcomes as good or better. And normalcy for a first-rate country does not encompass a shambolic postal service that’s in a death spiral.