"The Commission recommends that the Postal Service, before implementing five-day delivery, create a plan that provides an acceptable level of service to rural, remote or non-contiguous areas that may be particularly affected," the opinion concluded. "Such a plan should mitigate any disparity in service caused by five-day delivery."
The opinion "takes a skeptical look at many of the Postal Service’s assumptions about the impact of the proposed change," the National Newspaper Association, which fought the service's proposal, said in a news release. "While it does not firmly recommend for or against five-day mail, the PRC advises the Postal Service and Congress that USPS has over-estimated how much money it would save, under-estimated how much business it would lose and failed to sufficiently analyze the impact on rural, remote and non-contiguous areas (like Alaska and Hawaii) if Saturday delivery is eliminated."
Congress has long required six-day and rural delivery, but reconsiders the subject annually, and the Postal Service is eager to find ways to save money to erase its multi-billion-dollar deficits. Now it must "respond to the commission’s reservations about potential financial gain" from eliminating Saturday delivery, NNA said.
The commission's opinion pointed out several ways five-day delivery would hurt rural areas. "A number of post offices in rural areas are not open on Saturday or operate on a limited-hour basis, and the Postal Service has not indicated if it will maintain existing post office hours," it said. "Furthermore, the Postal Service is also proceeding with plans to close post offices stations, and branches and reduce the number of blue collection boxes available."
It would be better to eliminate Saturday delivery than "close thousands of small post offices," Commissioner Tony Hammond said in a supplementary opinion that amounted to a dissent. But the full commission's opinion noted other factors, such as the heavy use of mail-order pharmacies by rural residents, and pointed out that that more parcels are delivered on Saturday than any other day.
The commisison said the Postal Service "made no attempt to develop information on the unique postal needs" of rural areas, and noted in its news release that commissioners "received significant input from rural America." That included testimony from Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, who argued that the mail is a more important part of the civic infrastructure in rural America.
The Postal Service argued that a poll showed Americans would prefer the loss of Saturday mail to a postage rate increase, but the commission said the survey used "an improbable 10 percent rate increase, which may have biased the responses." The opinion is a 211-page PDF, available here.