by nathan oster
Small communities in Wyoming like Emblem won’t be losing their post offices, after all.
But customers will have to make adjustments to their schedules if they want to buy stamps or mail packages because those post offices won’t be open as much under a plan announced last week by the U.S. Postal Service.
The Emblem Post Office, for example, would go from being open four hours a day, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday to being open just two hours a day. Public input will be used to determine what those hours of operation will be.
“It seems to be a good compromise solution because it allows smaller towns to still have access to postal products and services,” said David Rupert, a Denver-based spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service. “You can get just about everything you need off of usps.com, but we recognize that not everyone has Internet access, particularly in the more rural areas.”
The plan announced last week by the USPS keeps existing post offices in place, but with modified retail window hours to match customer use. Access to the retail lobby and to post office boxes remains unchanged, as do town’s zip codes and community identity.
“Meeting the needs of postal customers is, and will always be, a top priority. We continue to balance that by better aligning service options with customer demand and reducing the cost to serve,” said Postmaster General and CEO Patrick R. Donahoe in a release. “With that said, we’ve listened to our customers in rural America and we’ve heard them loud and clear – they want to keep their Post Office open. We believe today’s announcement will serve our customers’ needs and allow us to achieve real savings to help the Postal Service return to long-term financial stability.”
The new strategy would be implemented over a two-year, multi-phased approach and would not be completed until September 2014. Once implementation is completed, the USPS estimates savings of a half billion dollars annually.
Rupert said at this point the plan is “just a proposal,” noting that it is now under a 90-day review period with the Postal Regulatory Commission. But he noted with some confidence that it would ultimately be approved, pointing out that the PRC is “an oversight advisory board” that “makes sure we’re following all the rules and isn’t into approvals and disapprovals” of specific aspects of the plan.
Rupert said sometime after Labor Day the USPS will begin looking at each of the communities to determine with public input the best hours of operation.
He emphasized, however, that this plan is just a start.
“Like a Band-Aid on a bleeding aorta,” he said. “This is nowhere close to getting the postal service where it needs to be.”
Just by reducing hours, the USPS expects to save about $500 million a year.
“This last quarter, we lost $3.2 billion,” he said. “So even with this, we’re still heading into the deep canyon.”
Rupert said the USPS continues to push for the end of Saturday delivery, a move that in itself would save $2.8 billion a year. The USPS is also hindered, he said, by a mandate that it pre-fund future retiree health benefits. Right now, it’s writing a $5.5 billion per year check just for that, he said.
“We don’t want a bailout or anything like that…we just want to be freed up from those two things,” he said. “We’re a government agency that wants to get smaller.”