Monday, November 16, 2009

Mail Bonding

It sounds like the punch line of a Henny Youngman or Rodney Dangerfield joke.

"Things are so bad, the mail is cutting back on delivery. Now they're going to take one less day a week to not get your stuff there on time."

Sorry, USPS people, but I'm a little annoyed.

The Postal Service wants to petition Congress to excise Saturday delivery, because of a---get this---$3.8 billion loss in the 2009 fiscal year. The USPS says it has already made $6 billion in cost-cutting measures, including lowering the payments it made for retiree health benefits by $4 billion in fiscal 2009.

OK, I get why this is; people are simply not mailing as much stuff anymore. Bills are paid online or via phone. E-mail has made letter writing archaic and quaint to the point of weird.

Seems that the only folks using the mail service anymore are those distributing junk.

But if there are fewer pieces of mail, why are they taking longer to reach their destination?

It's not just me.

I've levied this complaint to friends and associates, and they agree with me. The mail is moving at a snail's pace, befitting its derogatory nickname, "snail mail" --- which used to be a term of endearment, to differentiate it from e-mail. But now, it's taking on an all-too literal meaning.

As a freelance writer, I get checks mailed to me quite frequently. Some come from Boston. Some come from Tampa. In both instances, the checks are taking five-to-seven days to arrive in my metro Detroit mailbox.

The people sending me those checks empathize; they tell me that they, too, have experienced Pony Express-like delivery service. And this is all stuff zipping back and forth between the Continental United States. Sometimes less than half of it.

Boston-to-Detroit isn't Moscow-to-Buenos Aires, but you'd think so.




That said, it really is still a bargain, to cough up 43 cents to send a piece of mail from anywhere from New York to Los Angeles. Just as long as there's no sense of urgency for it actually getting there.

I don't mean to tick off the good people who work for the USPS. But it IS a little confounding; less mail to move, yet it's moving slower. Again, not just my perception.

But here's something: the USPS has trimmed 40,000 jobs as part of its cost-cutting measures. So maybe that's contributing to the slowdown. Yet there are still 712,000 employees on the books. The Postal Service also reduced overtime hours and lowered transportation-related costs.

The move to drop Saturday delivery would save $3.5 billion, according to USPS chief financial officer Joseph Corbett. But even a 5-day delivery schedule won't be enough to put the USPS into the black, Corbett said. So the agency will also propose to Congress that it reduce the $5.5 billion in annual payments to pre-fund retiree health benefits that it is slated to make until 2016.

This marks the third straight fiscal year that the USPS has posted huge losses.

And these numbers, to confirm my suspicions about mail volume: The service's total mail volume plunged by more than 25 billion pieces, or 12.7%, to 177.1 billion pieces. That drop was twice as much as any mail volume decline in the Postal Service's history.

But less volume isn't equaling faster delivery. How come?

Now they want to cut out one day of delivery service, or 16 percent of the days they deliver.

NOW how long will mail take to "get there"?

Maybe we should ask the junk mailers, or bill sender-outers, for their secret. Their stuff always seems to get to its destination forthwith.

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