Sunday, September 18, 2011

P.O. closings may be right move

I read the linked article ( http://www.savethepostoffice.com/who-gets-hurt-when-post-office-closes ) with interest. It is about the proposed closure of a few thousand of the United States Postal Service's offices around the country and ALL the many reasons for keeping the doors open despite the USPS's dismal financial outlook. Having a personal affinity for outdated concepts (as I realize I will eventually become one, if I have not already), I do hate the idea of local post offices closing. But... just a few observations:

  • There are about 32,000 post offices in the U.S. right now. But there are an estimated 20,000 municipalities - all sizes - in the country. Isn't that overkill? I'm sure some municipalities require more than one post office simply to deal with volume, but what about the Alaskan coastal tribal village of Wales, population 162? It has two post offices for those 162 people. Surely, even if every single man, woman and child in the community went to just one post office every single day there would still be some lulls in the traffic! The post office closest to the coast is slated by the USPS for closure. If you know a bit about Alaskan geography, you might think that the coastal closure would unfairly oppress the very isolated 170 residents on Little Diomede island 25 miles away in the Bering Strait, but no, they have their own post office!
  • The article writer speaks about poor people lining up in an ever-dwindling number of remotely located post offices merely to acquire money orders to pay their monthly bills. (By law, they better be low-spending poor people, because money orders cannot be valued at more than $1,000.) However, the writer does not mention that money orders can also be purchased through Western Union, in grocery stores, in department stores, in convenience stores. (By the way, with all the money order fraud lately, the postal service money orders have virtually become private postal service currency, as attempting to cash them anywhere but a post office, where they can be verified, is risky.) In fact, Walmart offers its own money orders at a cost that is about half of what the post office charges, and I think many would find Walmart's service hours to be more agreeable than those of the post office. Now, I'm not a fan of Walmarts, generally, but I notice that there are about 4,000 of those things scattered around the country. I bet a bunch of those money-order customers will comfortably line up in them when their bills become due.
  • The writer does some "math" to determine that Americans collectively will pay $50 million in extra fuel costs if the postal service makes office closures and suggests that figure somehow minimizes the effect of the $200 million in annual savings to the postal service. Apples and oranges. In addition, this alleged math is built upon the premise that every single household located near a closed post office would make two extra gas-guzzling-vehicle trips each month in order to visit a neighboring post office. I'm fairly certain those are invalid assumptions. Some of the residents near the Hope Street, Stamford, post office, for example, may be able to stop in at one of the more than half a dozen other post offices within a three-miles radius of it on their way to work or the store. And, I'm almost ashamed to point out, many of us do not make any trips to the post office, ever, and should not be expected to make 24 more per year if our local post office is closed. I personally purchase stamps, communicate and pay bills online. And I use UPS to ship packages whenever possible, as its slightly higher costs already include delivery confirmation and insurance that must be paid for separately at the USPS.
  • Ignored by the article writer is a statistic I recently noted. Four out of five local post offices are operating at a deficit - they are losing money. But, apparently, the USPS monopoly is legally required to maintain service to all areas of the country, even when operating at a loss. Closing post offices is serious business, requiring all sorts of tough-to-get federal approvals. And what congressperson is ever going to vote in favor of closing the local post office? So, added to its other significant problems, the postal service is mandated by law (and by the lawmakers who hope to be reelected) to bleed hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Let me just state the obvious: This is not a recipe for business success.
  • Privatization is all the rage these days. There are some on the far right who would like to see the extreme of that concept applied to Social Security, healthcare, education, environmental protection... Why not the mail? Though the article writer did not discuss it in much detail (or objectivity), the postal service's idea of creating village post offices within existing small businesses in small towns seems an excellent one. Personally, I do not see why the postal service intends to pay these businesses to offer mail services - it seems to me to be an excellent thing for a general store in a small town to offer just to bring folks in. But USPS is awarding small sums to the host businesses of its village post offices.The article writer noted with some criticism that the village post office in Malone, Washington, made just $2,000 through the program last year. Strangely, I don't believe anyone has heard the owner of Reds Hop n' Market complaining about the extra two-grand. And the few hundred people in the area seem to have no problem doing their mail business while stopping in at Reds for their beer and bait.

Bottom line: It seems to me that the postal service is a thoroughly antiquated concept. But its leadership does seem to have some good ideas for adjusting to the new environment and, perhaps, surviving in it. However, instead of realizing that these changes are good and necessary, postal patrons, postal employees and the elected leaders of our country are determined to oppose them and maintain the same old course, which certainly leads straight over a cliff.

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