Saturday Mail Delivery Threatened Again

post-office-delivery-trucksIn what seems an annual exercise, the Postal Service is complaining about resources and proposing to end Saturday mail service.

Customers are continuing to migrate to the Internet and to cheaper standard-mail options, and away from the Postal Service’s signature product — first-class mail, Postmaster General John E. Potter will report in announcing the projections.

The Postal Service experienced a 13 percent drop in mail volume last fiscal year, more than double any previous decline, and lost $3.8 billion. The projections anticipate steeper drops in mail volume and revenue over the next 10 years, and mounting labor costs only complicate the agency’s path to firm fiscal footing.

In an effort to offset some of the losses, Potter seeks more flexibility in the coming year to set delivery schedules, prices and labor costs. The changes could mean an end to Saturday deliveries, longer delivery times for letters and packages, higher postage-stamp prices that exceed the rate of inflation, and the potential for future layoffs.
The U.S. Postal Service will release projections Tuesday that confirm for the first time the suspicion that mail volume will never return to pre-recession levels. In response, the agency is pushing anew for a dramatic reshaping of how Americans get and send their letters and packages.

The irony of course is that people are increasingly accepting of the possibility of losing Saturday mail delivery precisely because of the obsolescence of regular mail.  That is, if you absolutely, positively need it overnight, you don’t mail it.  So, for the most part, all that comes on Saturday is junk mail and sundry other crap that can wait for Monday.

Potter has a more fundamental problem, in that what remains of his “business” is what used to be its loss leader. First Class mail was highly subsidized by package delivery and other functions that are increasingly performed by private competitors or by the Internet, facsimile, and other technologies.  While a First Class stamp may well cover the cost of sending your check to the cable company across town, it’s ludicrously cheap for sending something from small town Georgia to small town Alaska.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Government
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    You know, if you keep raising the price of stamps, reducing service and keep the long lines at the post office, you eventually can break even. When you get down to 0 customers. The post office doesn’t seem to understand they are in competition for customers. They are like the MSM noting their customers are going away, but haven’t made the leap to the need to be relevant.

  2. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    I remain a willing and satified customer of the US Postal Service, but, after years and years of financial failures, I have a hard time believing that doing away with just Saturday delivery is a viable solution.

    It seems to me that not much mail is time sensitive these days and for what there is, there’s always special delivery. I would propose two alternatives, canceling Wednesday and Saturday deliveries or canceling Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday deliveries. Even the latter would still have mail delivery every other business day. If businesses needed a higher level of service, say daily, they could pay some kind of additional fee.

    As noted in your assessment, the volume of mail is decreasing and not very likely to increase in the immediate future. My own mail box mostly receives bills, direct (advertising) mail, and magazines, nothing that couldn’t wait a day or two. You can still survive and somewhat prosper in a declining market but you must cut deep and in the future, perhaps, rebuild. Cutting at the margins will result in a long lingering fit of financial sickness.

  3. rodney dill says:

    Since the US government owes the USPS $75 Billion is this really necessary?

  4. Pete says:

    A preview of universal health care

  5. William d'Inger says:

    Actually, the long decline in postal service has been underway for at least 60 years. Most of you are probably too young to remember that we used to get two mail deliveries per day, morning and afternoon, six days a week. Furthermore, the deliveries were on schedule, i.e., if the morning mail came at 9:30 a.m., it came at that same time everyday. You could depend on it.

    I think the answer is to contract mail delivery to commercial businesses on a lowest responsible bidder basis with a certain service standard requirement. That works well for garbage collection around here. If a company persistently fails to pick up trash on the appointed day, it voids the contract, and there is always another company waiting to take its place.

  6. tom p says:

    A couple of points:

    To start with, the US postal sevice is mandated to deliver everything that is mailed, regardless of whether it is profitable or not.

    Name me one private (mail) company that works under such an onerous mandate… DHL? FED-EX? UPS?

    Get real, they are in it for the money, the USPS is in it for the betterment of the commerce of the nation. In other words, it does not matter if they are making a profit or not, as long as the companies/people they service make a profit.

    Welfare corporations… nobody has a problem with that… How many corporations are sucking off the tit of the USPS right now? Who complains? Nobody… Until they don’t get saturday delivery.

    A preview of universal health care

    Pete, don’t even get me started on that.

    The private health ins co’s will make BILLIONS off of universal health care… and people like you and I will underwrite their profits. Remember, they don’t pay all those lobbyist’s for nothing.

    ps: if you send anything Fed-EX, you are a sucker. USPS is more efficient, and cheaper.

  7. john personna says:

    I hate going out to the mailbox on Saturday anyway.

  8. PJens says:

    Why stop at Saturday? Receiving mail three days a week; on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, seems reasonable to me.

  9. […] James Joyner, as usual, seems quite a bit less agitated than I: The irony of course is that people are increasingly accepting of the possibility of losing […]