06 February 2013

I'm not an economist, but...

The United States Postal Service announced today that, effective August 5, 2013 (sometimes I really wonder how government agencies choose dates for such things) will cease delivering first class mail on Saturdays, though delivery to post office boxes will continue.

The move is expected to save the Post Office some $2,000,000,000 next year, a small sum, really, considering the $16,000,000,000 the agency lost last year, and especially given the reality that the cost of running the Postal Service is unlikely to otherwise decrease next year.  This move seems to be nothing more than a bandaid.

When he made the announcement this morning, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said, "America's mailing habits are changing and so are their shipping habits.  People will say this is a responsible decision. It makes common sense."

Let me be one who says this defies common sense.

I am not an economist but even I know that as the price of postage continues to rise, people are less likely to send a letter - or anything else through the mail.  They will opt for e-mail or Facebook, instead, and some might even walk - or even drive - the letter to the addressee themselves (I've personally made use of each of these options).

Now that mail will not be delivered on Saturdays is yet another reason - in addition to the continuous rising costs - why people will make even less use of the postal system.

Think of it this way: If you mail a card on Thursday, the recipient will not receive it until Monday.  In the grand scheme of things, this may not be a bid deal, but some people like to send birthday cards to people so the card arrives on the birthday itself (or perhaps the day before).  With the new change in delivery, this will become more difficult.

I am not sure whether mail would continue to be sorted on Saturdays to aid delivery on Mondays; if not, this will simply add one more day's delay into the delivery time so that a card mailed on Thursday may not arrive on Tuesday.  With this speed of delivery, frankly, what's the point?

There are changes that could be made, including closing small facilities (though this brings a different set of difficulties with it).  One simply change would be to drop the cost of postage.  As postage goes down, more people are likely to make use of the postal system.

Given the current of cost of postage, I am more inclined to e-mail documents to retreatants, for example, than I am to put physical papers in the mail to them.  I prefer to actually mail physical papers to people, but the cost is prohibitive.  This does not help the postal system.  And now that the mail take even longer to reach the addressees, I will be even less likely to use the postal system.  This change, I am sure, will only lead to further decreases in revenues for the postal system.

According to respondents to a Wall Street Journal poll, I am in the minority when I say that I will miss Saturday mail delivery.  There is something nice about sitting down with the mail on a quiet Saturday morning.  I enjoy waiting for the mail to arrive and look forward to it.

For several years now I've wondered what a company like UPS or FedEx or DHL could do home delivery of letters and cards, and not just packages.  Perhaps we will soon find out.

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