Friday, December 9, 2011

Fear for future of postal service

A story from this week's Riverdale Review and Bronx Press.

By Brendan McHugh 

Even worse postal service is coming to the Bronx. 

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) announced the elimination of overnight service for First-Class mail this week. 

Currently, 41.5 percent of First-Class mail arrives the next day, but with the Post Office’s proposed changes, it will go to zero. To get overnight service under the new regulations, the public would have to spend $13 to overnight a letter. 

They have already closed the Bronx Processing and Distribution Center earlier this year, which has slowed down mail for some Bronxites already. 

“It is a self-fulfilling prophecy – you provide inferior service, and you drive away business,” condemned U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel in a statement. “This gives them another excuse to curtail even more services, and all of a sudden it’s a downward spiral to poorer service."

The planned cuts include terminating 250 postal centers and laying off nearly 30,000 workers nationwide. 

Jump below for the full story.

The ax would virtually eliminate the chance for stamped letters to arrive the next day, officials conceded. The proposed changes would slow everything from check payments to Netflix to mail-order prescription drug deliveries. 

The USPS said first-class mail volume has dropped from 98 billion in 2006 to less than 78 billion and is expected to drop by half by 2020. 

“The U.S. Postal Service must reduce its operating costs by $20 billion by 2015 in order to return to profitability,” David Williams, vice president, Network Operations, said in a statement. “The proposed changes to service standards will allow for significant consolidation of the postal network in terms of facilities, processing equipment, vehicles and employee workforce and will generate projected net annual savings of approximately $2.1 billion.” 

This is part of the overall savings expected from the network optimization initiative, which is projected to save up to $3 billion by 2015, officials said. 

The Postal Service faces default this month on a $5.5 billion annual payment to the federal government for retiree health benefits. 

“This is a business plan doomed for failure,” Engel, who is supporting a bill in Congress that will allow for the USPS to restructure their budget to help pay off debt. “They should be looking at inefficiencies and finding ways to cut waste rather than eliminating jobs and reducing access to facilities. It is almost as if they want people to use the private carriers instead.” 

Local leaders are distraught over the cuts. 

“It almost sounds like the post office is closing down shop all together,” Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said, stressing all the different plans the USPS has to rollback service. 

“When you cut service, you drive out customers, and you don’t save as much money as you think,” he said, recalling cuts to public transportation in the 1970s that pushed away customers. 

“Service cuts don’t necessarily save the amount of money they’re suggesting, Dinowitz said. “Two-day mail delivery instead of one day will undoubtedly drive people to the internet.” 

Bronx community activist Robert Gratz was appalled at the loss of jobs. 

“28,000 jobs are going to be lost—that’s huge,” said Gratz, who helped lead a rally to try and save the Fieldston Post Office. 

“Our differences with the post office is not that they have to make cuts,” he said, highlighting some ideas he thinks the post office needs to adopt. 

“We feel that there are other ways that the post office can become a more cost efficient organization,” Gratz said. One way would be to convert the post office vehicles into more energy efficient, green vehicles. 

“They are doing some experimentation, but it’s not enough,” he noted. The USPS has 200,000 vehicles to deliver mail. 

The USPS put 17 Bronx post offices up for consideration to close. Throughout the city, 34 in all were being studied. 

The USPS took heat this fall from community leaders and elected officials for their lack of effort in notifying local communities about public hearings to discuss possible closures.

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