Monday, April 27, 2015

Letters are taking longer to arrive, especially in rural areas

In January the U.S. Postal Service stopped offering overnight delivery for local first-class letters. In response to declining mail volume, service standards have been relaxing since 2012, and 150 plants have closed, saving $865 million. "The U.S. mail is slowing down," Lisa Rein writes for The Washington Post.

Officials are downplaying the longer delivery times, and former postmaster general Patrick Donahoe said "that consolidating mail operations into fewer plants would save money and increase efficiency," Rein reports. Donahoe said the changes only affect 4 percent of the mail, but a USPS fact sheet concerning the new stardards says they affect as much as 16 percent of first-class mail. Members of Congress from rural areas report even higher numbers.

The first set of plant closings didn't make that much difference because many of them were close together, but the 82 more plants closing in January is affecting delivery times more because trucks must travel longer distances to pick up and deliver mail.

"Preliminary internal data shows that the Postal Service did not meet even its lower targets for first-class mail during the first seven weeks of 2015," Rein reports. Letters that should take three days only arrived on time 54 to 63 percent of the time. Conversely, in 2014, three-to-five-day delivery arrived on time between 77 and 85 percent of the time. Agency spokeswoman Sue Brennan said about the plant closings, "Implementing changes of this magnitude in an organization the size of the Postal Service involves a learning curve."

Postal officials cite severe winter storms as a key reason for slow deliveries. "We acknowledge that pockets of the country have experience some service delays in [January-March]," Brennan said, "much due to the extreme weather but certainly not all. We have deployed headquarters-level operations teams to specific locations to provide on-site assistance with local management." The regulatory commission wrote in a March report that the weather show not be constantly blamed for failure to meet performance standards.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who serves on the Senate committee that oversees the Postal Service, said, "As service standards have slipped across the country, they're slipping worse across rural America. If you continue to close processing centers . . . and pretend you're meeting delivery standards when you're not, you're going to get bad service. The three-day delivery standard in and out of rural areas has never been true." (Read more)

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