While in Washington this past summer, I finally made it to the National Postal Museum (pictured above and below) which is part of the Smithsonian Institution and is located right next to Union Station in what was once the city’s main postal building. Although small, the museum was inspirational, showing how the growth of the post office paralleled the growth of the country. My visit reminded me that despite my embrace of computers and technology, nothing matches the feeling of finding a piece of first class mail waiting for you at home (so long as it’s not a bill).
For these reasons, it was with some sadness that I read of the extreme measures that the US Postal Service plans to implement to stabilize its finances. The plan is to raise the cost of postage (from 44 cents to 45 cents in mid-January) and to reduce the quality of service (delivery in two days instead of one for most first class mail). While the USPS may have no other options, their revitalization plan strikes me as completely irrational; a type of half-measure that will do little to reverse the negative trends of the past decade.
The post office is not the only once-solid institution in society whose business model has been shattered by the disruptive innovation of the Internet and related technologies, nor is it the only institution to wait far too long to even seek an effective response to these technological challenges. It seems to me that the post office still needs an “effective response” because the current plan – charging more for less service – certainly isn’t the answer. I hope there will always be a US Post Office, but if that is to be the case, bolder measures will have to be undertaken than those now under consideration.
5 Responses to USPS, RIP???
For certain services, the USPS is critical to our economy. However, if only those services were in the mix, then the cost would be prohibitive. To some degree it is like Lowell’s trash collection – a necessary service but higher costs can lead to disruption. The City strikes a balance through “subsidy” of the service from General tax revenues.
It seems like the federal government needs to strike a similar balance. But the first step in that process is to make the service most cost-efficient. That should not be limited to service-reducing initiatives, but should take on the low-hanging fruit of waste. But once satisfied with that efficiency, some subsidy should be used to preserve those critical functions.
As long as it’s spent wisely, I don’t mind the government (i.e., “us”) subsidizing the post office. That’s mostly because mail delivery is an essential service and, if it were left to the private sector, large parts of the country would not be served. For the same reason, I wish the post office would become an internet service provider, mostly to provide that utility in areas in which the private sector finds it unprofitable to do so, but also to provide competition to the private sector which I suspect is monopolistic in its pricing practices.
That said, I’m not optimistic. Through a combination of a lack of strategic imagination and restrictions erected by Congress, I don’t think the USPS can adapt in the way that’s needed. Plus, if what gets delivered to my mailbox is representative, most of the post office’s business is junk mail, magazines and bills, all of which can be handled more efficiently via the internet which makes their long-term viability as the foundation of the USPS business model doubtful
The Manchester Union-Leader has a story today about a store in Derry NH having the first-in-New England “fully automated U.S. Postal Service kiosk.’ Read the story here: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20111212/NEWS02/712129997
I thought we had one of those autonomous kiosks at our main Post Office here in Lowell. I have used it a couple of times and it works fine.
I wonder if slowing mail delivery will include less flying, which means less subsidy to airlines, with its ripple impact.
I would be willing to have less home delivery, even down to only three days a week. Back when I was in Elementary School we lived in a small town (yes, in the US; well, in New Jersey) with no home delivery. I grew up assuming that everyone went to the Post Office itself to get their mail. It was a big deal to me when I was cleared to pick up the mail on the way home from school. In Sunday’s Boston Globe Columnist Jeff Jacoby made the point that labor costs for the USPS have not varied over decades. Yes, it is a labor intensive business, but still…
Regards — Cliff
The kiosk in Derry NH is in a retail store not a post office site.
Another of the many side to this story rests with Congressman Darrell Issa and his plans to dismantle the post office… then there is Sen. Susan Collinsbill to correct some misinterpretations of Title VIII and MA Congressman Stephen Lynch’s bill to reaudit the pension fund for a correction of what he claims is an overpayment not an owing of funds. And so on…