The United States Postal Service announced this week they would eliminate Saturday deliveries beginning in August of this year, with the expectation of saving billions of dollars annually. There have been inklings of this move for a long time as the financial losses have grown.
The USPS has been suffering from dwindling business for years due to a combination of forces out of their control. Competition from private companies like UPS and FedEx expedite mail delivery, and the advent of electronic mail has many implications impacting the obsolescence of in-person-carrier home and office mail delivery.
The first attempt to expedite mail delivery coast to coast was by the Pony Express. Its riders were sent out across America for the first time on April 3, 1860. They left simultaneously from St. Joseph, Mo., and Sacramento, Calif. The trip west took nine days and 23 hours and the eastbound journey took 11 days and 12 hours, according to the Pony Express historical site. The pony riders covered a miraculous 250 miles in a 24-hour day.
Many legends of the West were created around these riders and their horses, eventhough the service lasted for only 19 months. Then they, like today's USPS, were overtaken by a modern, efficient competitor: the Pacific Telegraph line. During its short time in existence, the Pony Express had more than 100 stations across the nation, 80 riders and approximately 400-500 horses, accoridng to the Pony Express Museum's website. In all the months of service, only one mail delivery was lost, which is an incredible accomplishment considering the terrain and the hazards of traversing the continent on horseback.
The express was not a financial success, however, and the founders were forced into bankruptcy, which brings us to the current state of the United States Postal Service’s financial dilemma and their announcement of discontinuing mail delivery on Saturday in an effort to save money.
Since the placement of the ubiquitous mailbox outside almost every home in America, we have become accustomed to receiving mail daily, but do we really need to receive mail six days a week or even five days a week?
We have been conditioned to believe we need the mail every day. Is this an obsolete social construct, which, when current trends in electronic mail for the exchange of information are examined, bears little significance in the 21st century?
A relatively small percentage of mail requires overnight delivery, and if they do individuals are more apt to choose one of the private companies like FedEx that was founded on capturing the one-day delivery service market.
In an effort to justify the USPS decision to stop delivery on Saturday, they posted this explanation on their website:
Why is five-day necessary?
Revenue and mail volume projections point to continuing and dramatic losses in the billions. If the Postal Service takes no action, it could face a cumulative $238 billion shortfall by the year 2020. Mail volume is projected to drop an astounding 37 percent. Quite simply, there is much less mail to be delivered, yet costs to deliver the mail continue to rise. Eliminating one day of delivery will save the Postal Service as much as $40 billion during the next 10 years.
This begs the question—is mail delivery five days a week too many days? What about three days a week? Individuals who have P.O. Boxes most likely do not check their mail daily or even five days a week.
The first stamp issued in 1847 in New York City cost 5 cents and paid for a letter weighing less than 1 ounce traveling less than 300 miles, and a 10 cent stamp took your letter over 300 miles. In 2013 a letter weighing 1 ounce will cost 46 cents traveling anywhere within the contiguous United States, unless you have a “forever” stamp redeemable, well, forever—the economic rationale for this stamp remains a mystery.
The postal service is the third largest civilian employer, behind the federal government and WalMart, with 574,000 workers. In a 2006 US Supreme Court decision, the Court noted: "Each day, according to the Government's submissions here, the United States Postal Service delivers some 660 million pieces of mail to as many as 142 million delivery points. As of 2011, the USPS operates 31,000 post offices and locations in the US., and delivers 177 billion pieces of mail annually, according to “Postal Facts 2010.”
What would happen if we received mail on Monday, Wednesday and Friday? Your bills would still reach you in time for payment, and creditors would likewise receive your payment expeditiously. Netflix movie delivery might have to be adjusted and timed based on the three-day delivery schedule. But these changes are a minimal sacrifice to put the USPS on a budget schedule it can afford while still serving its customers.
Many individuals are choosing autopay for bills electronically from bank accounts, and some projections say this trend has grown and will eventually be the standard, eliminating mail delivery for paying bills. Similarly, the catalog purchasing industry has become electronic. It’s ironic the catalog business is abandoning their mail-order business for electronic catalogs and ordering processes because catalog ordering was one of the reasons mail service expanded at the end the 19th century.
The evolution of the USPS can be viewed several ways. Downsizing by reducing the number of delivery days is in the interest of its financial longevity, and there will be some positions lost. This can be done by attrition over time ensuring full time workers will be able to keep their jobs. The USPS should concentrate on the postal services in which they excel: Namely, personal letters, small domestic shipments under 5 pounds, flat rate envelope or box delivery, and most international shipments.
Meanwhile, think about how important it is to you to receive mail every day. Remember when the municipal mail boxes started to disappear? People panicked—for a minute. Perhaps a paradigm shift is in order for Americans on how they perceive the urgency of mail delivery. Five days a week delivery is not a sacrifice—it’s evolving with the times to stay relevant.