Modes of delivery
June 10, 2013
The Postal Service helps out FedEx and UPS by providing “last mile” delivery of their parcels, and two recent studies argue that the Postal Service should privatize its retail and mail processing networks and instead "concentrate on what it does best” — last mile delivery.
But mail delivery ain't what it used to be. More and more, the Postal Service is leaving the last stretch of the last mile to its customers.
If you’re used to getting the mail delivered to your curbside mailbox, you can look forward to going down the block to pick up the mail at a cluster box unit. If you get your mail at the door, you may need to put up a mailbox at the curb, or you too may be traveling to the nearest cluster box. “Centralized delivery” is the wave of the future.
In January the Postmaster General announced that the Postal Service would be switching over to more centralized delivery points (i.e., cluster boxes) to improve delivery efficiency. “We’ll be looking at some centralized delivery, rolling that out across the country – no major push, but starting to move on that,” said Donahoe. The PMG said the expansion of centralized delivery would take time, but it would start this year.
“It’s an opportunity to save some money and also provide better service,” said the PMG, “especially with parcel lockers that we’ll be installing at the same time.” That’s a reference to the Postal Service’s new “GoPost” automated parcel delivery lockers, as discussed in this excellent post on Going Postal.
The amount of money that could be saved by changing modes of delivery is considerable. The Postal Service currently spends about $25 billion to deliver mail to more than 150 million homes and businesses. The average annual costs for city delivery are $353 for door delivery, $224 for curbside, and about $160 for centralized. For rural delivery, the costs are $278, $176, and $126, respectively.
A study on “Modes of Delivery” done by the USPS OIG showed that the Postal Service could save more than $4.5 billion a year by shifting 35 million homes and businesses from door-to-door to curbside. It could save another $2.8 billion by shifting 52 million homes and businesses from curbside to a cluster boxes. If the door-to-door delivery points were shifted to centralized instead of curbside, it would save another $2.2 billion.
Congress seems ready to go along with the conversion plan. Congressman Darrel Issa’s proposed legislation already has a provision pushing centralized delivery, and Senator Tom Carper says Issa’s idea to shift mail delivery from door delivery to cluster boxes may be included in some manner in the final bill.
A plan without a plan
For new residential developments, the Postal Service can use whatever mode of delivery it wants, and that usually means cluster boxes. As a USPS spokesperson explains, “Where the builder used to have a choice on type of delivery, we’re choosing for them – or at least moving in that direction.”
The Postal Service is also looking to change the mode of delivery whenever it can. As a postal spokesperson told Post & Parcel in late January, the first areas to experience a change to cluster boxes will be business parks, industrial buildings, and shopping malls where mail carriers currently go business-to-business to drop off mail.
For residential neighborhoods, the Postal Service isn’t supposed to change the mode of delivery without the customer’s permission. According to the “agreement clause” in section 631.6 of the Postal Service’s Postal Operations Manual, a customer's signature must be obtained before conversion from one mode of delivery to another.
In April 2012, the Postal Service revised the POM to give itself more authority to determine the mode of delivery when adding new delivery points. But the passage about the agreement clause is still in the POM, and there's nothing in the revised POM saying that the Postal Service can unilaterally convert the mode of delivery for existing addresses.
Nonetheless, one postal manager in St. Louis recently sent a letter to the St. Louis Apartment Association (SLAA) stating the following: "The Postal Service has revised the POM giving the USPS the autonomy to make changes to current mode of delivery. The Postal Service is not currently unilaterally changing any current modes of delivery. But it now has the authority to do so."
That manager may have it wrong about the POM, but his letter to the apartment association is another example of how the Postal Service is pushing current residences to convert to centralized delivery. His letter says that the Postal Service will pay for conversion to cluster box units now, but owners who pass up the offer risk having to pay for it themselves later.
The Postal Service is also finding other ways to convert current delivery points to cheaper modes of delivery. Under some circumstances, the Postal Service can change delivery for existing residences even without the owner's permission, like when the safety of letter carriers is a concern. The dangerous dog rationale for ending door-to-door delivery seems to be occurring with increasing frequency.
It's clear that the Postal Service is, as the PMG put it, “rolling out” more centralized delivery. There’s obviously a plan behind all this, but the Postal Service has yet to file a request for an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission. Eventually, there will be so many news stories about delivery conversions that it will become clear that the Postal Service is making a change in service on a nationwide scale and it will have to submit a request for an advisory opinion. In the meantime, the conversions are taking place on what is supposedly an ad-hoc basis, as if there were no plan in place.
In a previous post back in January, we noted several news reports about places where the mode of delivery was being changed. Here are a dozen more.