CPWU Spring Newsletter

Steve HutkinsBlog, News

The Spring 2024 newsletter from Community and Postal Workers United has articles about DeJoy’s austerity plan to slash jobs and shrink processing centers and post offices; the surge of protests against the cuts; and the collections optimization initiative that ends evening collections at post offices. Read the newsletter here.

Evening collections end in Oregon and Washington: The threat to election mail and other risks

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

Last week the Postal Service stopped collecting mail and packages at the end of the day at 170 post offices in Oregon and 30 in southern Washington.

The initiative is called Local Transportation Optimization (LTO), aka Optimized Collections. Without the traditional end-of-day collection and transport to the processing center, the mail sits overnight at the post office, waiting to be picked up the next morning, when the day’s mail is dropped off for carrier delivery and PO box distribution.

A presentation about LTO was shared recently with employees at the impacted post offices in Oregon and Washington. The presentation says that as of mid-February, 717 post offices had been optimized nationwide. The LTO initiative was implemented first in Virginia in October, then in Wisconsin and parts of Michigan in January. During February, evening collections ended at post offices in the Portland, Phoenix, Atlanta and Santa Clarita Regions. Alabama (Birmingham & Montgomery) will be optimized in March, and the Seattle Region, in August. (The implementation schedule is here.)

Over the next seven months, the initiative will be implemented at post offices served by 180 processing centers. By September, something on the order of 12,000 to 14,000 of the country’s 31,000 post offices will not get an evening collection.

Optimization in Oregon and Washington

According to the presentation, the initiative will “target any site over 50 miles from an LPC to capture our biggest opportunities.” In other words, any post office more than 50 miles from the Local Processing Center is subject to optimization.

Along with the presentation, the Postal Service shared a list of the 200 post offices in Oregon and Washington where the LTO initiative was implemented on February 24. That list is here. Our modified list with additional data is on Google Docs here. The presentation also includes a map of the impacted offices, but it’s not very useful, so here’s a Google Map version.

This map shows the 200 impacted offices, color coded by LPC service areas for Portland, Eugene and Medford. The map also shows the four other transfer hubs in Oregon: Salem, Klamath Falls, Bend, and Pendleton. The offices marked in black are excluded from optimization (as are all the offices less than 50 miles from an LPC, which are not on the map). There’s more about the Portland Region implementation later in this post and in this previous post.

Nationwide, the LTO initiative will add a day to delivery times for billions of pieces of mail, and that includes First Class, Express, Priority, and ground packages. Nearly all this mail is sent by individuals and small businesses rather than large business mailers, and much of it is time sensitive. Some of it is time critical — like election ballots.

Threats to election mail

At a town hall last week in Virginia, elected officials heard from their constituents about the problems they’re experiencing with getting their mail. (The Postal Service declined an invitation to attend.) While there are many causes to the postal problems in Virginia, it’s also the first place where the LTO initiative was rolled out back in October. (More on that in this post.)

Richmond Town Hall (WRIC ABC 8News)

At the town hall, Keith Balmer, General Registrar of Virginia, delivered a speech warning people not to use the Postal Service to vote: “It’s imperative,” said Balmer, “that we safeguard our democratic process, and in light of the challenges posed by USPS’s delivery failures, I urge all voters who have requested or received an absentee ballot for the current Presidential Primary to consider alternative methods of submission.” (The full speech is here.)

The LTO initiative will be particularly problematic when it comes to election mail. Oregon and Washington are both vote-by-mail states where the date of the postmark is critical.

To ensure that a ballot gets a postmark, the voter needs to ask for it at the post office window. Otherwise, a postmark won’t be applied until the mail piece is scanned at the processing center. That’s normally occurs on the same day so it’s not an issue, but with the LTO initiative, the scan won’t occur until the next day.

As of July 2022, there were nineteen states that accept and count a mailed ballot if it is received after Election Day but postmarked on or before (sometimes only before) Election Day. Many states will also accept an Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) as evidence when the ballot was sent, but with LTO, that barcode may not be scanned until the day after the ballot was mailed.

The voting-eligible population of Oregon is about 3.2 million. The population of the ZIP codes in Oregon losing their end-of-day collection — and the same-day postmark — is about 680,000, of which about 540,000 are old enough to vote. That’s about one in six of the eligible voters in the state.

In other states, a ballot must be received by Election Day, so the postmark may not be an issue, but not collecting the mail until the next day might cause ballots to arrive too late. That problem will be compounded by the consolidation plan now underway, which will cause local mail to be sent to a regional processing center, often hundreds of miles away, adding to delays.

Wisconsin, where the LTO was implemented in January, is one of the states where a ballot must be received by Election Day. Senator Tammy Baldwin has written the Postmaster General, expressing her concerns that the LTO initiative will delay the mail.

Baldwin asked if the Postal Service consulted with businesses before implementing the LTO initiative (the answer to that will be “no”). She also asked, “How will USPS ensure that mail has a postmark that correctly reflects the day when an individual drops their mail off?” And with respect to election mail, Baldwin posed this question: “How will USPS ensure that mail-in ballots for upcoming elections are not impacted by this change?” The senator requested the Postmaster General to reply by March 12. It will be interesting to hear his responses.

Don Cheney of the APWU Local 298 in Tacoma has been studying the LTO initiative in the northwest. “It is bad timing to be holding raw mail overnight during the primary election season without postmarking it,” says Cheney. “Even worse not to tell the people that use the affected offices. Voters will be disenfranchised if they are not informed. It is also unconscionable that political leaders were not informed nor consulted over this important change. The secrecy implies that postal leaders know this is wrong.” The potential impacts on election mail, says Cheney, make this “a replay of PMG DeJoy’s election interference in 2020.”

Notifying customers . . .  or not

When it comes to things like election mail, it would seem imperative for the Postal Service to keep customers well informed. But with the LTO initiative, the Postal Service is doing the opposite.

The LTO presentation includes a brief Customer Communication statement, but the Postal Service has told the Postal Regulatory Commission that this notice to customers was intended to be used “as a means of responding to customer inquiries at a retail facility or the customer call center.”

It’s basically just the script for what employees are supposed to tell customers if they ask about it. But if you don’t know anything about LTO, there’s no reason to ask about it.

The whole LTO initiative is being treated as if it’s Top Secret. Not only are customers not being proactively informed, but the LTO presentation directs employees not to respond to any media inquiries and to instead refer inquires to the Communication Specialist.

The LTO presentation also tells employees, “Do NOT talk to the drivers about the project.” The drivers are the Highway Contract Route truck drivers who deliver the mail to post offices in the morning and collect it at the end of the day. One reason it’s important to keep them in the dark is that they may be losing their jobs. I’m told that the contract drivers in one area in the Portland region — who have been doing their routes for many years — all got fired without notice. That’s unconfirmed, but it fits with the pattern of secrecy surrounding the LTO initiative.

Risk factors

The LTO presentation does not address the threat to election mail, but it does identify several other risks posed by the LTO initiative. These include the following:

Staging area for LTO, Source: USPS LTO presentation

Space constraints: To leave mail overnight for collection the next morning, the bags and containers need to be clearly identified (the office is often closed when the driver arrives). The presentation provides detailed directions to employees about how the mail is to be handled, including how special color-coded tape is to be applied to the floor showing the “staging area” where the outgoing collection mail and the incoming mail are to be placed. Most of the impacted post offices are small, rural offices, so some of them simply don’t have enough space, especially during peak season. In some cases, there may be safety issues with bins blocking passageways.

Express Mail: The presentation states that “morning dispatch adds a day to express.” This should be a matter of some concern, since Priority Express guarantees next-day (overnight) or 2-day delivery to most U.S. addresses and P.O. boxes. If Express mail and packages aren’t picked up until the next day, how will it be possible to meet this guarantee? It probably won’t be, so the presentation says it will be necessary to “update the RAU” — the Retail Acceptance Unit module – “to reflect the new dispatch time.”

Package Visibility: The presentation refers to “Customer Presentation package departing in the PM.” It’s not exactly clear what this means, but perhaps it refers to the fact that with Informed Delivery and USPS Tracking, mailers can follow the progress of their package toward its destination. One of the first things they’ll see is that the package didn’t leave the post office on the day they sent it. Perhaps in these cases the postmaster or clerk will have to tell the customer about this issue when the package is mailed. Or perhaps not.

Peak season and holiday dispatches: The space constraints of where to put the mail overnight will obviously become more of a problem during the holidays, when people are sending gift packages and so on. The presentation notes the special consideration that will need to be given to “Outgoing mail sitting for 3+ Days over Holiday weekends.”

Source: USPS LTO presentation

Registry Mail: Another risk of the initiative is that cash will sit overnight at the post office along with the mail. To deal with this problem, the Postal Service is directing employees to lock the cash in a safe or install a lock box.

Collection Boxes: The presentation states that the collection times on blue boxes will not change as a result of this initiative, and they will be scanned at the scheduled time. Normally, the mail is removed shortly after this collection time, but at the optimized offices, this mail won’t be on its way to the processing center until the next day. These collection times are on the box itself and they’re included in the Find USPS Locations website (under “Last Collection Hours”), but the Postal Service is not amending this information to indicate that the actual collection won’t occur until the next day.

Carrier start times: The presentation doesn’t get into this risk, but the LTO initiative will change the route schedule in another significant way. In some cases, the truck delivering the day’s mail — and picking up yesterday’s mail — will arrive later in the morning than under the current schedule. Carriers will thus start on their routes later in the morning and end up delivering after dark. That may cause some carriers to take early retirement or quit, and it will also add to the retention problem.

The aims of optimization

The purpose of the LTO initiative is obviously to reduce transportation costs. The Postal Service has refused to provide any data on the matter, but the savings could be hundreds of millions a year.

The LTO presentation says the initiative also increases “cube” — in other words, the trucks will be fuller. That’s a major preoccupation of logistics experts like the Postmaster General and his leadership team, several of whom (Kelly R. Abney, Peter Routsolias, and Ronnie Jarriel) come from his previous companies, New Breed Logistics and XPO Logistics.

The presentation also notes “earlier processing times.” That apparently refers to the fact that at offices under the hybrid optimization, some of the day’s mail will be picked up on the truck’s return leg, and that mail will get to the processing center sooner than mail collected at the end of the day.

In one of its responses to an information request, the Postal Service explains: “After implementing Optimized Collections, larger volumes of mail and packages will be available for processing in a late morning or afternoon window, spreading the volume arrival profile into the originating processing facility and removing some processing demand from peak operating hours, thus more effectively utilizing our overall processing capacity within our plants.”

Source: USPS LTO presentation

The Postal Service also points out that LTO initiative will have a beneficial impact on the environment. As the Postal Service stated in response to one of the PRC’s information requests about the LTO, “eliminating these unnecessary and underutilized trips would also reduce our carbon emissions, and therefore align with our carbon reduction initiatives.”

While the cost savings could be significant, much of the savings will simply offset the additional costs being incurred by another aspect of Delivering for America — the consolidation of carrier operations into Sorting & Delivery Centers. The longer routes to the S&DC will add millions of miles and work hours to the network, and thereby incur massive costs (as discussed in this post and this one)

The same goes for reducing emissions. Much of what the LTO initiative cuts in emissions will be canceled out by what the S&DC initiative adds by requiring carriers to drive an extra 10 or 20 miles back and forth to their routes, as well as commuting farther to their new workplace at the S&DC.

A true accounting of the pluses and minuses of the LTO and S&DC plans would require more transparency from the Postal Service and more cooperation with the PRC’s Public Inquiry. But that isn’t happening, and the Postal Service will not be releasing any data that undercuts its narrative of optimization and modernization.

Questions raised by the LTO list

The LTO presentation says that in the Portland region, 225 post offices are losing their evening collection. In addition to the LTO presentation, the Postal Service has shared a second pdf with a list of 200 post offices that will be optimized under the LTO plan. It’s not clear why there’s a discrepancy of some 25 post offices.

Full and hybrid optimization, Source: USPS LTO presentation

For 173 of the 225 offices, it’s “full optimization” — there will be no collection until the next day. For 52 offices, the optimization is “hybrid,” meaning that the truck that drops off the mail in the early morning circles back on the return trip later in the morning (or early afternoon) to pick up whatever has been mailed by that time. Hybrid offices are those that have 2 to 7 containers of mail.

The presentation also shows a dozen offices that are more than 50 miles from the LPC, but that have enough mail (over 7 containers) to be considered exempt from optimization. They’ll continue to get the end-of-day collection. A list of these offices is on the Google Doc, tab “Exceptions.”

The list of LTO implementation sites in Oregon and Washington is the only such list that has been made public thus far. A previous list of the implementation sites in Virginia was shared with the PRC, but as a nonpublic filing, and the Postal Service did the same for Wisconsin, again nonpublic.

The official list is similar to the one modeled here a couple of weeks ago in this previous post. The differences are due mostly to the fact that the model focused only on Oregon state and did not include 26 offices in southern Washington that are part of the Portland Region, and it included 14 offices in the eastern part of the state that are part of the Boise Region.

Here’s an updated map of the ZIP codes impacted by the LTO initiative. It’s a state map of Oregon, so it doesn’t show the Washington offices. The gray area to the east is part the Boise region, where LTO may be implemented in April.

The implementation list raises some interesting questions and points to where further information would be helpful.

While most of the optimized sites are small, rural post offices, the list shows that the LTO initiative also encompasses several urban offices serving large populations. For example, the Keizer Finance Station in Salem serves ZIP 97303, which has over 41,000 people. And the Brooks Finance Station, also in Salem, serves ZIP 97305, with a population over 43,000. One would think that’s more than enough people to produce enough volume to merit an exemption from LTO implementation, but both offices are being optimized. Whether that’s full or hybrid optimization is not clear because the official list doesn’t distinguish between levels of optimization.

The Postal Service has said that the optimization will apply to offices more than 50 miles from the Local Processing Center. In Oregon, the LPCs are in Portland (co-located with the RPDC), Eugene and Medford. The LTO list includes these but also four other “transfer hubs”: Salem, Klamath Falls, Bend, and Pendleton. In some cases, the optimized office is less than 50 miles from the transfer hub but more than 50 from the LPC. Apparently the LPC distance determines the optimization rather than the transfer hub distances, but this is not clear.

As the map shows, some areas of Oregon, like the central part of the state and southeast area, have post offices that are more than 50 miles from the LPC, but for some reason they’re not on the LTO list. This includes Prineville 97754, Mitchell 97750, Princeton 97721 and Fields 97710.

Conversely, some offices are less than 50 miles from the LPC, but they show up on the optimization list anyway. These include Cheshire 97419 (18 miles from the Eugene LPC), Harrisburg 97446 (21 miles from Eugene), Monroe 97456 (25 miles from Eugene), and Dexter 97431 (19 miles from Eugene). Why would these offices get optimized? They’re actually close enough to the Eugene facility to give up their carriers to the likely S&DC at the Eugene LPC, so they’d be serviced by carriers and not even need an evening collection.

There are other issues as well. For example, the Sisters 97759 post office appears on the optimization list, but it also appears on the “exceptions” list. It’s not clear if this is simply an error or a misunderstanding of the lists.

The PRC plods on, with lawsuits on the horizon

While the LTO initiative is clearly going to have nationwide impacts, the Postal Service claims it’s not necessary for it to request an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission. In response to an information request by the Commission as part of its Public Inquiry on DFA, the Postal Service said it “does not anticipate material impact to service performance.” In its view, the relaxed service standards implemented a couple of years ago now provide a “sufficient cushion” to allow it to meet the standards “even if mail is retrieved from candidate sites the next day.”

Last week the Commission finally issued an order responding to the Postal Service’s attempt to thwart the Public Inquiry by arguing that the latest questions were outside the Commission’s authority. The PRC order reaffirms the Commission’s responsibility to seek information about the activities of the Postal Service, but it also amends some of the questions “to seek more general or less granular information.” (The revised information request is here.)

Over the coming weeks, the Commission may interrogate the Postal Service further about the LTO initiative and the Postal Service’s rationale for not requesting an advisory opinion. But the Postal Service is not likely to change its position, and without a request, the Commission cannot begin an advisory opinion process.

In the meantime, LTO implementation is proceeding at a rapid pace, one state after another, which will soon make an advisory opinion irrelevant anyway. As the Commission states in the order, “Pre-implementation review, at least at a level that allows the Commission to determine if its jurisdiction is implicated, is necessary because there is little recourse should implementation of these initiatives conflict with the policies of title 39. For example, a post-hoc advisory opinion proceeding does not serve the public interest if substantial changes have already been made to nationwide postal services.”

If the Commission does not take a more aggressive position soon, it will have little to say about the LTO initiative. Once the collection routes are reconfigured, the contract drivers terminated, and all the other components of the initiative implemented, it will be almost impossible to undo the changes.

At this point, it appears that the only thing that might stop the LTO initiative is a concerted effort by elected officials or a lawsuit, like the way legal action halted the mail delays caused by DeJoy’s cost-cutting plan before the last presidential election. Back then the lawsuit filed by Oregon, Washington, and several other states quickly led to an injunction preventing further implementation of those measures while the litigation played out.

And maybe that’s just what will happen again.

—  Steve Hutkins

Related posts:

As USPS institutes network reforms, mail delivery hits a three-year low

Steve HutkinsBlog, News

Government Executive: The U.S. Postal Service has continued to see slower mail delivery across the country, with delays picking up as the agency is in the throes of transforming its entire network.

Postal management has repeatedly pointed to isolated incidents causing temporary disruptions—rather than any systemic issues—to explain the declining performance, though the trend has now persisted for nearly six months and is causing stakeholders and advocates to question the true root of the problem.

USPS is now delivering just 83% of First-Class mail on time during the current fiscal quarter, its worst rate in three years. That is down from 86% in the first quarter and 91% in both the fourth quarter of fiscal 2023 and the same period last year.

The Postal Service is in the midst of the most significant makeover of its operational structure in decades as it continues to implement Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s 10-year Delivering for America plan that it says will make the agency more efficient and eliminate its annual deficits.

That has included consolidating mail sorting away from individual post offices in favor of centralized centers and moving processing operations away from hundreds of cities and towns in favor of 60 mega-centers throughout the country. As part of a new initiative, USPS is also rolling out an “optimized collection plan” that will require mail to sit overnight at post offices instead of being collected each evening for transportation to a processing center.

Read more: As USPS institutes network reforms, mail delivery hits a three-year low – Government Executive

The USPS Network Consolidation Plan: What’s at Stake for Southern Oregon

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured, News

inequality.org, by Sarah Anderson and Scott Klinger (Institute for Policy Studies): A core feature of U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s 10-year plan, “Delivering for America,” is an initiative to restructure the nation’s postal network by consolidating processing and distribution operations in regional centers, mostly in urban areas.

In 2023, two years into the 10-year plan, USPS reported that the agency had committed $7.6 billion out of a total $40 billion restructuring budget and plans were on track to open 60 new Regional Processing and Distribution Centers across the country in the coming years.

Through this consolidation plan, many postal processing and distribution facilities in smaller communities will be converted to Local Processing Centers with reduced functions. USPS has not yet disclosed a full list of facilities to be affected by the plan. But in numerous reported cases, consolidation will result in packages and mail traveling long distances from outlying areas to urban regional processing centers.

How might this consolidation plan affect smaller towns and rural communities, where residents tend to rely most heavily on the public Postal Service? Unfortunately, USPS has published very little analysis to back up their claims about the expected benefits of the consolidation plan. This report uses available information to examine the potential impacts on just one facility: a postal processing and distribution center in Medford, Oregon.

Read the report: The USPS Network Consolidation Plan: What’s at Stake for Southern Oregon – Inequality.org. View the pdf version.

Chaos plagues USPS operations in Houston area

Steve HutkinsNews

Allen Abel, Linn’s Stamp News: In a rare display of bipartisan comity, Republican and Democratic politicians in the Houston area have joined forces against the United States Postal Service, which they hold responsible for more than two months of lost packages, delayed deliveries, helpless customers and an infuriating disinclination to speak the truth about what actually was going on.

According to local news reports, thousands of Texans have been affected since December 2023 by cascading equipment failures and staffing shortfalls at USPS processing plants in North Houston and Missouri City.

The most damaging episode, and the least farcical for beleaguered shippers and recipients, was an attempt by the Postal Service to install a new sorting machine at North Houston that proved to be too big for the building.

“The new sorter didn’t fit into the facility, and the old sorters had already been taken out to make space for the new equipment,” the Houston Chronicle reported Jan. 31, citing a meeting between Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, and senior postal and union officials.

“They were left without a lot of capacity to process parcels there due to whatever caused them to put that machine in there without knowing that it did not fit,” the Chronicle quoted National Association of Postal Supervisors executive vice president Chuck Mulidore as saying.

“Mulidore said he had personally never heard previously of a machine not fitting inside a facility,” the Chronicle reported.

Read more: Chaos plagues USPS operations in Houston area

(Photo: Patricia Ortiz/Houston Public Media)

Postal Service announces more Sorting & Delivery Centers coming soon

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

The Postal Service has announced the launch dates for several more Sorting & Delivery Centers, along with the “spoke” post offices that will give over their carriers to these S&DC hubs.

The notification lists 16 new S&DCs and 52 spoke offices set to go live on Sept. 7, 2024.  That includes the Acworth S&DC, which had been announced previously. Here’s the basic list. A more detailed list is here.

  • Acworth GA Carrier Annex S&DC : Kennesaw Main; Kennesaw Carrier Annex
  • Carbondale IL S&DC: Carterville Main; De Soto Main; Murphysboro Main
  • Columbus GA Oakland Park Station S&DC: Columbus – Fort Benning Branch; Cataula Main; Fortson Main; Ellerslie Main
  • Washington OH S&DC (Dayton – Washington TWP Branch): Bellbrook- Main Office; Dayton – Wright Patterson AFB CAX
  • High Point NC S&DC
  • La Crosse WI S&DC
  • Lake Charles LA S&DC: Westlake Main; Lake Charles – Drew Station
  • Oakland Park, Ohio S&DC
  • Olympia WA Hub Station S&DC: Rainier Main; Mccleary Main; Dupont Main; Olympia Main; Rochester Main
  • Sarasota FL S&DC
  • Severna Park MD S&DC: Pasadena Main; Severn Main
  • Shawnee Mission KS S&DC:  Kansas City – Parkville Branch; Shawnee Mission – Shawnee Branch
  • Southern Connecticut S&DC: New Haven – East Haven Carrier Annex; Durham Main; Middletown Main; Southington – Trailer; Northford Main; New Haven – Hamden Branch; Meriden Main; Cheshire Main; New Haven – Mt Carmel Carrier Annex; Rockyhill Main; Portland Main; Wallingford Main; Cromwell- Main Office; Kensington Main; Plantsville Main
  • Vineland NJ S&DC
  • Wilkes Barre PA S&DC
  • York PA East Branch S&DC : Felton Main; Manchester Main; York Haven Main; Marietta Main; Glen Rock Main; Windsor Main; Wrightsville Main; Shrewsbury Main; Red Lion Main; Thomasville Main; Columbia Main; Etters Main; Mainuntville Main; Seven Valleys Main; Mainunt Wolf Main

A second notification has provided the launch date for the spokes at a few other S&DCs that had also been announced previously:

  • South Atlanta GA S&DC: Broadview Station, Cascade Heights Station, Morris Brown Station (all launched on Feb. 10, 2024)
  • Panama City FL S&DC: Downtown Station (March 9); Northside Station (March 23)
  • Everett WA S&DC: Bothell – Mill Creek; Seattle North City Annex (both on June 1)
  • Pompano Beach FL S&DC: Pompano Beach Main and Coconut Creek (both on March 9); Margate Branch and Coral Springs (on March 23). (There’s more on this S&DC here.)

For most of the S&DCs launching in September, the notification list includes just two or three spokes, and for six S&DCs, no spokes are listed at all. Over the coming months, new notifications will add more spokes to these S&DCs.

The Postal Service has said the main criterion for determining which carrier units will be consolidated is travel time to the S&DC, with a limit of 30 minutes. Using that limitation, one can determine which post offices could potentially become spoke offices.

While the list shows just 52 spokes, there are about 200 other carrier units within 30 minutes of the 16 S&DCs launching in September. Not all will lose their carriers, however. Other factors will come into play, like the capacity of the S&DC in terms of interior space for carriers and distribution cases, parking spaces for employees and delivery trucks, and so on.

Here’s a map showing the S&DCs launching in September (red), along with the spokes that have been announced (blue) and the potential spokes within 30 minutes of the S&DCs (purple).

A list of the facilities with addresses, carrier routes, distances between S&DC and post offices, and so on, is on Google Docs here. By the way, our regularly updated list of all the facilities in the new network — RPDCs, LPCs, S&DCs, and spokes — is here.

The Postal Service says that as of January 25, there were 31 S&DCs in operation, and carrier operations were “insourced” from 87 spoke post offices, serving 123 ZIP codes. A total of 1,379 routes have been relocated to these S&DCs.

There about 45 more S&DCs launching over the coming months, through September, which will bring the total to about 75 S&DCs. By the end of September and fiscal year 2024, approximately 178 posts offices will have given up about 3,200 routes, three-fourths of them city routes and one-fourth, rural.

The impacts of longer routes

The notification to employee organizations about the new S&DCs prefaces the facility list by saying, “The purpose of establishing S&DCs is to reduce transportation and mail handling costs as well as provide postal customers with additional services.”

The Postal Service has not provided any evidence that the S&DC system will reduce transportation costs. That’s because there isn’t any. Even with the reduction in trips between processing centers and post offices, the S&DCs will add millions of miles to the network, with all the costs for fuel, maintenance, and carrier work hours.

The average city route is 21 miles (transit plus route), and the average rural route is 35 miles. According to an OIG study on consolidating carrier routes, the current average transit between post offices and routes is 1.25 miles each way. For the carrier units being consolidated in September, the average transit distance will increase to 11 miles each way — about a 19-minute drive or more, depending on traffic.

If the average transit distance nationally were to increase by 10 miles and the drive time increased by 15 minutes, and if 100,000 routes were eventually relocated to S&DCs, as projected by the Delivering for America plan, the new network would require 600 million more miles and 15 million more work hours. (For more on the calculations, see this post and this post).

In the current network of 233,000 routes, delivery vehicles travel about 1.8 billion miles. So 600 million more miles represents an increase of about 34 percent.

The transportation costs of these additional carrier miles would be partially offset by lower costs for transportation between processing centers and post offices (the carriers will do that work). But the savings from eliminating this component of transportation will be dwarfed by the cost of all the additional miles in the routes.

The additional carrier work hours for longer routes will be offset by cutting clerk jobs at post offices and eventually closing and downsizing many offices. That’s the only way the S&DC system won’t add red ink. To offset 15 million additional work hours, the Postal Service would need to eliminate something like 8,000 clerk jobs.

No environmental impact study

Besides the additional costs of longer routes, there’s the environmental impacts to consider. The Postal Service included a “sensitivity analysis” in the supplemental environmental impact study (SEIS) it did on the purchase of a new fleet of delivery vehicles, but it’s very brief. It showed, as would be expected, that longer routes cut deeply into the emissions benefits of a electrifying the fleet. (More on that here.)

The Postal Service could have done a more detailed analysis as part of the SEIS on the new fleet, but chose not to, explaining that “delivery facility network optimization is not considered part of the Proposed Action analyzed in this SEIS” because the “purchase of vehicles will not itself cause any meaningful change in average route length.”

The Postal Service could have done a separate EIS on the S&DC transformation, but it again chose not to do so, explaining that the plans to consolidate carriers “are still under development and are independent of the vehicle replacement program.” Therefore, said the Postal Service, “this SEIS does not address the environmental impacts from this delivery facility network optimization, which the Postal Service will consider in a separate NEPA assessment if deemed appropriate.” Needless to say, the Postal Service has proceeded with implementation of the S&DC plan without doing a separate EIS.

The Postal Service could have also requested an advisory opinion on network transformation from the Postal Regulatory Commission, which would have produced data relevant to environmental impacts, but it refused to do so, saying that the plan would not impact postal services from the customer’s point of view so the Commission’s opinion was not necessary.

The Postal Service has even refused to turn over data about transportation routes to the PRC as part of the Public Inquiry into Delivering for America. On December 20, the Commission filed an information request asking for details about transportation routes in the new network. On January 2, the Postal Service filed a “motion for reconsideration,” arguing the information request exceeded the Commission’s authority and implicitly threatening to go to court rather than sharing the data. It’s been seven weeks since then, and the Commission has yet to rule on the motion or to issue any further information requests. The Public Inquiry has come to a halt.

[Update, Feb. 22: Just hours after this post was published, the PRC finally ruled on the motion for reconsideration, granting it in part and denying it in part. The order is here, and the revised information request is here.]

Leave the commuting costs to the carriers

The S&DCs lengthen not only the carrier routes but also commuter distances for the carriers and other employees at the S&DCs. The Postmaster General doesn’t seem overly concerned about it. At a meeting on February 6, 2024, the PMG told reporters that as part of the consolidation effort, employees in some cases will have to drive about 5 to 15 miles farther. But that shouldn’t be a problem, he added, because “our employees are committed to the success of the Postal Service. I am sure they will do that.”

In that same meeting, or possibly another one the following week, DeJoy acknowledged that some carriers would have a longer commute to the S&DC than to their post office. But, he added, “If there’s an uncomfortable expectation, it’s that. And how uncomfortable is that — you’ve got to go an extra 30 minutes to go to work? We have to get new plants, we have to improve our plants, we have to align our work, so we can move it efficiently,” DeJoy said.

So whether it’s 5 miles, 15 miles, or 30 minutes (about 20 miles), it’s a sacrifice employees should be willing to make for the sake of the Postal Service. But the longer commutes are not simply “uncomfortable.” All the extra money on gas and maintenance comes out of the employee’s pocket, and there’s no additional compensation for the time spent in the car on the longer commuting.

Let the sunshine in

The Postmaster General recently told Federal News Network something to the effect that the new S&DC facilities are an upgrade for postal employees who previously worked in old, dark facilities that were a drain on workforce morale.

That’s the way the network transformation has been presented since the beginning, going back to July 2022, when an article in Eagle Magazine promised that the new network would let the sunshine in: “A better workplace for a brighter future.”

Eagle Magazine July 2022

That might make sense if most of the new S&DCs were in new facilities. But that’s not the case at all.

So far, the only S&DC in a new facility is the recently opened S&DC in Pompano Beach. All the others are in currently operating P&DCs, large post offices, and carrier annexes.

Over the coming months, about 150 P&DCs will be downgraded to housing a Local Processing Center and usually an S&DC as well. These are all currently existing facilities.

The new network features three new regional processing centers (RPDCs) in Atlanta, Charlotte, and Indianapolis, but there’s been no indication that they will also contain S&DCs, and the USPS presentations on the Atlanta and Charlotte region have not shown these RPDCs as housing S&DCs.

The Postal Service has indicated that there may be new facilities in several cities, including Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Louisville, Baton Rouge, Rochester, Salt Lake City, Grand Rapids, Seminole, Boston, and Billings. But these are designated as RPDCs with no sign that they will also include S&DCs.

There may also be other new facilities in the works, and some of these could contain S&DCs, like the one in Pompano Beach. Most likely, of the 400 S&DCs that are projected to be in the new network, maybe a dozen will be in new buildings.

Naturally the Postal Service is drawing the media’s attention to the shiny new facilities in order to advance its narrative of modernization, but the S&DCs are nearly all going to be located in currently operating facilities.

As for the old, dark post offices that will be consolidated to S&DCs, these are mostly small and mid-size post offices that probably have just as much light as the buildings where carriers are being moved, maybe more, and they are comparable in age as well.

Of the 75 or so S&DCs identified so far, the USPS owns 60 of the buildings, and their average age is about 42 years. Of the 177 spoke offices identified so far, about 60 are owned by the Postal Service, and they average 52 years old. In terms of “old” and “new,” that’s not much of a difference. The post offices in leased properties are probably “younger” than the owned properties, so the difference, if any, would be even smaller.

The only spoke post offices that could be considered “old” are actually beautiful historic New Deal post offices — the gems of the Postal Service’s inheritance of brick-and-mortar post offices. For most carriers moving from one of these post offices to an S&DC at a repurposed P&DC, it won’t be much of an upgrade.

In other words, it’s simply false to portray the S&DCs as an “upgrade” whereby employees are being moved from old, dark facilities to new, light-filled facilities.

Introducing Premier Post Offices, again

As for S&DCs providing additional services to customers, this apparently refers to the faster delivery that may be possible for customers within 30 minutes of an S&DC because the mail doesn’t need to be transported to a post office for carrier delivery — the system skips that step. But the Postal Service hasn’t really identified any other “additional services.”

One potential new service, however, was revealed at a recent presentation for business mailers described in a recent newsletter from Mailers Hub. The Postal Service announced that some S&DCs will also host upgraded retail post offices called “premier offices.”

These offices will showcase various forms of “retail technology modernization,” including 24-hour secure lobby access, self-service kiosks for mailing packages, parcel lockers, digital fingerprinting services, and kiosks for passport photos. Here’s an image from the presentation:

Source: USPS via Mailers Hub

Much of this self-service equipment has been featured in images of modernized post office lobbies that have been circulating in news reports since 2013:

Installing and upgrading retail post offices in S&DCs is one of the ways the Postal Service will be spending the $4 billion on post office improvements mentioned in the Delivering for America plan. According to the DFA, the investment will “provide a world-class customer experience with improved retail training, modernized uniforms, refreshed lobbies, and expanded self-service and digital options.”

Premier post offices are not a new idea. About ten years ago the Postal Service selected 3,100 metro-area post offices for an upgrade to the “Premier Post Office” program. It focused on sprucing up the post office with improved maintenance and on providing extra training for retail associates, including a module on telephone courtesy. As part of the program, the Postal Service also launched something called It Begins With a Smile to improve the customer experience.

The premier offices also had preferred access to new stamp issues, like the Harry Potter, and extended hours during the holidays. A 2015 OIG study said the Postal Service could be doing a better job measuring and evaluating the success of the program, and many of the Premier post offices could also be improved in terms of their physical appearance.

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, the Postal Service will begin closing post offices, downsizing to smaller spaces, and selling buildings, many of them historic. You can almost hear the explanation now: The premier post office at the S&DC will be newer, more modern and more convenient than the post office being closed. Forget about the fact that you may have to drive an extra 10 or 15 miles to get there and your town or neighborhood no longer has its own post office. It’s all for the greater good.

— Steve Hutkins

Related Posts:

Senator Baldwin Raises Concerns Over USPS Operational Changes That Could Delay Mail Service In Wisconsin

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured, News

[Press Release from APWU Oshkosh Area Local 178, Feb. 15, 2024]  Senator Tammy Baldwin has reached out to the Postmaster General expressing concerns about the significant operational changes within the United States Postal Service (USPS) that are affecting Wisconsin, particularly with the implementation of the Optimized Collections Initiative. These changes include shifting from traditional to optimized collection routes, which could result in delays in mail pickup and delivery.

In her letter to the Postmaster General, Senator Baldwin highlights her concerns about the impact of these changes on Wisconsin communities, including Madison, Green Bay, and Milwaukee. The Senator emphasized the potential exacerbation of delivery issues in the state, citing the USPS’s history of significant delays in delivering mail to Wisconsin residents.

“At a time when the USPS is raising postage rates and losing mail volume, it is difficult to understand why further steps are being taken to reduce mail services,” said Senator Baldwin. “The Postal Service is vital for small businesses, seniors, and rural communities that rely on the prompt delivery of life-saving medications, bill payments, and other time-sensitive pieces of mail.”

Senator Baldwin has requested additional information from the USPS regarding the implementation timeline for the Optimized Collections Initiative in Wisconsin, as well as a list of affected postal facilities. She has also posed several questions to the USPS, seeking clarification on how businesses and individuals will be informed about these changes, whether customers will experience service delays, and what measures will be taken to ensure mail-in ballots for upcoming elections are not impacted.

The Senator has urged the USPS to provide a comprehensive explanation of the proposed changes and to respond to her inquiries by March 12, 2024.

“I believe the USPS must prioritize the needs of Wisconsin residents and ensure that any operational changes do not compromise the quality and efficiency of mail services,” stated Senator Baldwin.

Read the letter here.

Photo: Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks at a Senate hearing on April 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

Related Posts:

The mail slows down, again

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

As you have probably noticed from personal experience and reading the news, the Postal Service is having a difficult time delivering on time. Mail and packages are delayed for days, even weeks, sometimes never arriving at all. For its part, postal management often seems unresponsive to complaints, and they have even refused to participate in town meetings with elected officials to discuss the problems.

Admittedly, not all the mail is slowing down. During the first quarter of FY 2024 (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31, 2023), Marketing Mail had an excellent on-time score of 93.7 percent. But First Class mail is not doing so well.

TV station KHOU says it’s heard from “tens of thousands of people in the Houston area” about their mail being lost or delayed, overwhelming its news tip email. A report in the Virginia Mercury says the late and missing mail in the Richmond area includes jury notices, contributions to a nonprofit museum, electoral ballots, utility bills, tax documents, medications, and testing samples used to screen veterans for colon cancer (rendered unusable by the delays).

While the log jams will eventually be cleared, the problems are not going away anytime soon, and in many respects, slower mail is simply a feature of the postal system being implemented by DeJoy’s Delivering for America plan. In other words, “get used to it.”

The mail slows down, again and again and again

This is the fourth time the mail has slowed down since DeJoy became Postmaster General.

Source: USPS and Washington Post, 2/6/2021 (Click to enlarge)

The first slowdown occurred in the summer of 2020, weeks after DeJoy’s tenure began, when the Postal Service initiated a workhour reduction plan to cut overtime and reduce late and extra trips for the trucks going between facilities.

By the second week of August, on-time delivery of First-Class mail nationwide had fallen nearly 10 percentage points, and scores for single-piece First Class mail with a service standard of 3 days were down over 20 percent compared to the same period the previous year.

As the November election approached and voting-by-mail became an issue, leading to several lawsuits against the Postal Service, service performance struggled to return to the pre-DeJoy averages. Then in mid-November, performance scores dropped even more precipitously, due largely to employee absenteeism and the package surge caused by the pandemic. For the week ending Dec. 26, 2020, only 33 percent of 3-day single-piece First Class mail was delivered on time.

The third time the mail slowed was on October 1, 2021, when the Postal Service changed its service standards — one of the first steps in the Delivery for America plan. About 40 percent of First Class mail slowed down, and 30 percent of the 3-day mail was turned into 4-day and 5-day, which allowed the Postal Service to cut costs by switching from air transportation to ground for long-distance mail.

The next big step of DFA was consolidating the processing and delivery network, and now that’s slowing down the mail yet again. Over the past several weeks, the rollout of Regional Processing & Distribution Centers (RPDCs) has been contributing to delays across the country. Two of the regions where there have been the most consumer complaints are Houston and Richmond, where RPDCs were launched last year.

In Houston, mail and packages have been backed up for weeks in the North Houston RPDC and the P&DC in Missouri City, apparently because there were problems installing a huge new package sorting machine in the RPDC. In Virginia, the problems have reached a crisis level, again at least partly due to issues launching a new RPDC at the Sandston P&DC.

Over the coming months, other elements of the DFA plan will slow down the mail even more. Many P&DCs are being downgraded to Local Processing Centers (LPCs) that handle only incoming mail, so local mail will need to be transported to an RPDC for processing, and then sent back to the LPC. That will lengthen delivery times by at least a day.

The Postal Service has also launched an initiative called Local Transportation Optimization, which will eliminate the evening collection of mail at most rural post offices over the next few months, so mail and packages will need to wait until the next morning for collection. That too will add a day to delivery times.

Invitation declined

Elected officials in Texas, Virginia, and across the country have been asking the Postal Service for answers. Congressman Al Green, who represents the Houston area, is calling for more transparency and a Congressional hearing. Virginia’s Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have been pressing the Postal Service to address the “alarming delays,” and they, along with several other elected officials, asked the USPS to attend a town hall about the issues.

The Postal Service “respectfully declined,” explaining that “significant attention and resources have been devoted to monitoring service performance and to providing customer service. Experience has proven that extraordinary or one-off customer outreach events complicate these efforts, rarely provide any meaningful insights to improve operations, and raise questions about basic fairness. Instead, the Postal Service relies on a robust program to collect, analyze, and act on service performance issues and customer complaints and questions.”

As part of this program, the Postal Service maintains a helpful service performance dashboard (as required by the Postal Reform Act) and provides quarterly service performance reports to the Postal Regulatory Commission. It also posts some of these reports on its website. The reports don’t encompass packages — that information is considered commercially sensitive and kept confidential — but they do include First Class mail.

Last week the Postal Service submitted its performance reports for the first quarter of FY 2024 (the last three  months of 2023). The reports show that the mail is in fact getting much slower nationwide and in almost every district. They also show that the delays in Virginia are among the worst in the country.

Percent on time

The following table shows the on-time performance scores for single-piece First Class mail during the first quarter of FY 2024 and for the same quarter in FY 2023.

The table merges data in the performance reports for Q1 FY2024 shared with the PRC last week, which can be found on the PRC website here, and the reports for Q1 FY2023, which are here. For easy access, all the reports used in this post are on Google Docs here. The table can be sorted by columns; to revert to the original order, refresh your browser.

Single-Piece First-Class Mail Percent On-Time Q1 FY23 - FY24

2-Day FY23 3-5-Day FY23 2-Day FY243-5-Day FY242-Day Change3-5 Day Change
Nation9081.887.570.5-2.76%-13.82%
Atlantic Area89.983.485.770.1-4.66%-15.99%
Connecticut92.284.389.171.1-3.37%-15.69%
De-Pa287.484.585.375.1-2.41%-11.15%
Ma-Ri88.380.380.961.9-8.41%-22.88%
Maryland83.882.182.269.1-1.93%-15.81%
Me-Nh-Vt91.983.989.369.2-2.80%-17.52%
New Jersey91.383.589.473.5-2.05%-11.99%
New York 187.283.183.469.9-4.33%-15.90%
New York 290.885.386.875-4.44%-12.07%
New York 391.884.593.275.61.54%-10.53%
North Carolina92.382.886.368.1-6.47%-17.76%
Pennsylvania 191.48691.977.30.59%-10.13%
Virginia8982.266.358.9-25.53%-28.33%
Central Area88.680.286.569.5-2.42%-13.30%
Ia-Ne-Sd8978.190.272.51.32%-7.15%
Illinois 186.683.482.373.2-4.92%-12.28%
Illinois 287.377.185.264.5-2.37%-16.37%
Indiana88.480.685.162.7-3.79%-22.23%
Ks-Mo90.578.386.564.1-4.38%-18.15%
Ky-Wv918389.772.6-1.46%-12.50%
Michigan 190.683.285.474.3-5.75%-10.68%
Michigan 292.683.791.375.3-1.39%-10.03%
Mn-Nd85.975.185.264.9-0.80%-13.54%
Ohio 187.881.482.270.6-6.35%-13.25%
Ohio 284.979.786.271.61.50%-10.21%
Wisconsin90.579.989.369.2-1.31%-13.42%
Southern Area90.380.488.468.9-2.13%-14.28%
Al-Ms91.680.489.262.5-2.61%-22.24%
Ar-Ok92.278.59266.8-0.26%-14.92%
Florida 190.879.391.8681.08%-14.25%
Florida 291.583.592.475.60.96%-09.49%
Florida 388.379.387.672.6-0.75%-8.44%
Georgia86.476.480.659.6-6.76%-21.94%
Louisiana90.779.287.665.7-3.41%-17.06%
Puerto Rico91.377.790.579.1-0.90%1.84%
South Carolina91.579.287.265.1-4.73%-17.80%
Tennessee88.277.989.164.41.07%-17.36%
Texas 191.286.587.878.2-3.74%-09.62%
Texas 289.1748666.5-3.44%-10.16%
Texas 392.682.791.471-1.31%-14.19%
Westpac Area91.783.89174.2-0.78%-11.45%
Alaska88.684.290.185.91.68%2.00%
Az-Nm92.181.391.270.3-0.93%-13.53%
California 195.488.594.474.4-1.05%-15.89%
California 294.187.992.275-1.98%-14.68%
California 39590.594.681.4-0.44%-10.04%
California 495.392.994.783.8-0.62%-09.75%
California 59188.991.280.40.18%-09.54%
California 694.989.693.979.5-1.05%-11.27%
Co-Wy81.172.48066.3-1.41%-8.37%
Hawaii93.883.793.783.1-0.13%-0.76%
Id-Mt-Or90.681.889.273.7-1.53%-09.88%
Nv-Ut91.283.38666.2-5.71%-20.51%
Washington88.676.691.770.53.52%-7.97%

Nationwide and district-by-district, the scores are significantly lower than they were last year during the first quarter. For mail with a 2-day service standard, 40 districts were slower, and for 3-5 day mail (a composite for mail with a 3, 4 or 5 day service standard), all but two districts had slower mail than last year. For the 3-5-day mail, the national average dropped from 81.8 percent on-time to just 70.5 percent.

Single-Piece 5-day First Class Mail in January 2024 (Service Performance Dashboard)

The Postal Service’s service performance dashboard provides the weekly scores for the first few weeks of the second quarter, and it doesn’t appear things are getting any better. For the 3-5-day mail during January, the national average dropped to 68 percent on time. That’s over 20 percentage points lower than last January. (The dashboard doesn’t provide a composite for 3, 4, and 5 day, so that’s an estimate based on the individual scores.)

It’s worth remembering that when the Postal Service relaxed service standards in 2021, it said that changing some mail with a 3-day standard to 4-day and 5-day would enable it to reach an on-time score of 95 percent. Even though the mail would be slower, claimed the Postal Service, it would be more “reliable.” That seemed dubious at the time — 3-5 day mail was averaging a score of about 80 percent — but the Postal Service stuck by the claim, even as it was questioned by the PRC and postal advocate Douglas Carlson during the advisory opinion process.

The scores for the four months of FY 2024 aren’t even close to achieving that goal. Raising the scores for 3-5-day mail from 70 percent to 95 percent is looking more and more like a pipe dream.

Average Delivery Time

Average delivery time (days to deliver) is another metric used to analyze service performance. The Postal Service has been using the composite average in press releases for a couple of years now, typically touting that all mail and packages have been delivered in around 2.5 days, which sounds pretty fast. Last June, in fact, it was just 2.4 days.

The number in the press releases is a composite that includes pre-sort and single-piece First Class, Marketing Mail, Priority, ground packages, and so on. It doesn’t reveal the problems with single-piece First Class mail, the kind of mail sent by individuals and small businesses.

Average delivery time for this composite has been increasing, and during the first quarter of FY 2024, as well as the first four weeks of the second quarter, it reached 2.8 days. That’s about 17 percent more than it was in June.

The following table shows the average delivery time for single-piece First Class for each service standard for the first quarter of FY 2023 and FY 2024.

Single-Piece First-Class Mail Average Delivery Times Q1 FY23 - FY24

DistrictFY23 2-DayFY23 3-DayFY23 4-DayFY23 5-dayFY24 2-DayFY24 3-DayFY24 4-DayFY24 5-dayChange 2-dayChange 3-dayChange 4-dayChange 5-day
Nation22.83.74.12.13.14.254.2%9.9%12.3%22.0%
Atlantic Area22.73.84.12.13.14.25.23.6%14.7%11.4%28.1%
Connecticut2.12.73.94.12.134.25.21.9%10.8%9.0%27.5%
De-Pa21.92.53.73.822.94.14.93.1%17.1%11.5%29.3%
Ma-Ri2.12.744.32.33.24.65.59.9%18.4%15.6%28.3%
Maryland2.22.93.83.92.23.24.14.91.4%10.3%8.7%26.5%
Me-Nh-Vt22.83.84.223.24.35.32.5%14.7%13.3%26.6%
New Jersey22.73.74.32.13.14.15.15.7%14.7%10.4%19.0%
New York 12.12.83.84.12.23.34.35.34.8%16.6%14.2%30.4%
New York 22.12.73.74.22.22.94.15.26.6%9.1%11.1%25.2%
New York 32.12.73.94.12.12.94.25.21.8%7.1%8.6%26.6%
North Carolina22.73.74.12.23.14.35.210.0%12.9%15.4%27.9%
Pennsylvania 11.92.53.53.922.83.953.1%14.0%10.1%27.4%
Virginia22.93.742.63.64.45.426.9%25.0%18.6%36.6%
Central Area22.83.84.12.13.24.24.72.6%12.4%11.7%15.6%
Ia-Ne-Sd233.74.323.144.5-1.6%4.7%8.3%4.0%
Illinois 12.12.63.53.52.233.946.9%14.3%10.2%14.5%
Illinois 22.133.94.52.23.54.45.16.1%16.7%11.6%12.1%
Indiana2.12.93.74.62.23.44.45.36.7%16.5%17.4%16.5%
Ks-Mo22.93.84.22.23.44.35.29.1%16.7%13.6%25.0%
Ky-Wv1.92.83.74.223.14.14.93.8%10.8%10.9%17.4%
Michigan 122.73.74.12.1344.63.8%10.3%7.1%12.6%
Michigan 222.73.84.22344.71.7%10.1%4.6%13.2%
Mn-Nd2.13.13.94.12.23.34.35.13.8%5.8%9.3%24.7%
Ohio 122.73.74.12.23.14.358.0%12.9%14.7%22.4%
Ohio 22.22.83.74.32.13.144.9-2.9%9.3%8.6%14.1%
Wisconsin22.93.84.22.13.24.24.92.7%10.3%10.5%16.0%
Southern Area22.93.74.22.13.34.253.4%11.9%12.7%18.8%
Al-Ms1.92.93.74.123.44.55.62.7%15.8%20.2%36.8%
Ar-Ok233.74.823.34.35.2-0.8%9.9%16.8%9.0%
Florida 1233.74.323.34.25.20.3%8.5%12.1%22.3%
Florida 222.93.74.123.144.71.3%7.2%8.6%16.0%
Florida 32.12.93.94.32.23.14.24.83.1%5.4%7.9%10.9%
Georgia2.13.13.84.22.23.54.45.34.7%14.6%14.8%26.6%
Louisiana22.93.74.12.13.34.65.64.8%12.2%24.4%35.2%
Puerto Rico1.8N/A3.94.32N/A3.94.59.1%00.0%3.8%
South Carolina233.84.22.13.34.35.14.3%10.8%14.7%21.9%
Tennessee2.13.13.842.13.44.45.11.1%11.3%17.0%26.3%
Texas 12.12.73.53.92.233.84.55.0%9.9%8.7%14.8%
Texas 22.1344.82.23.24.45.36.7%7.4%8.9%10.1%
Texas 322.83.84.623.14.45.11.4%8.8%16.2%11.3%
Westpac Area1.92.83.74.122.94.153.2%5.3%10.6%22.2%
Alaska1.6N/A2.94.51.6N/A2.94.4-1.9%1.6%-3.3%
Az-Nm22.93.84.223.14.25.22.2%8.0%9.5%23.4%
California 11.82.63.73.81.92.84.25.24.0%8.2%13.5%36.1%
California 21.92.63.9422.74.25.16.5%2.8%8.2%28.7%
California 31.92.53.7422.644.94.2%3.2%7.4%24.0%
California 41.92.333.61.92.53.54.61.8%7.7%17.3%26.6%
California 522.53.53.922.63.84.8-0.6%2.1%7.3%22.5%
California 61.82.73.73.91.92.844.96.0%5.6%9.0%24.7%
Co-Wy2.23.13.94.72.23.34.252.1%5.9%8.8%7.3%
Hawaii1.82.23.74.21.92.444.47.1%6.9%9.4%3.7%
Id-Mt-Or1.92.93.74.2234.14.92.9%4.1%10.8%17.0%
Nv-Ut22.93.942.13.14.65.55.4%7.4%18.1%38.2%
Washington22.93.84.82345.4-1.6%3.7%4.3%12.7%

For First Class, the average delivery times nationwide for Q1 FY24 were just a bit above the service standards of 2, 3, 4 and 5 days (i.e., 2.1, 3.1, 4.2, and 5.0 days). That might seem okay, but historically the average delivery times have actually been lower than the service standards because a portion of the mail is delivered earlier than the standard. That’s why in Q1 FY23 the average delivery time nationwide for each service standard was lower than the standard (i.e., 2, 2.8, 3.7, and 4.1 days).

Nationwide, delivery times have increased across the board, by 4 percent for 2-day mail, 10 percent for 3-day, 12 percent for 4-day, and 22 percent for 5-day. To put these increases in context, when the Postal Service changed service standards in 2021, it acknowledged that increasing average delivery time by 19 percent would cause a volume loss of 1.72 percent, which would cost the Postal Service $110 million in lost revenue annually.

Looking at Virginia

If you sort both of the tables, you’ll see that the scores for the Virginia district are the worst, or almost the worst, by both metrics for almost each service standard, sometimes by a significant margin.

For example, for mail with a 2-day service standard, Virginia scored 66.3 percent on time compared to the next lowest district, 80 percent for Colorado-Wyoming, and compared to 87.5 percent for the nation. That’s a decrease of 25 percent from its score of 89 percent last year. For the 3-5-day mail, Virginia scored 58.9 percent on time, again the worst in the nation, and 11 percentage points below the national average of 70.5 percent, and a 28 percent drop from its score last year.

With respect to delivery times, Virginia averaged about a half day more than the nation in each service standard. For mail with a 3-day standard, for example, Virginia averaged 3.6 days compared to the nation’s 3.1 days. For 5-day mail, Virginia averaged 5.4 days, an increase of 37 percent over its score last year (4 days).

The following chart shows the recent history of the first quarter scores for single-piece First Class mail with a 3-5 day service standard, nationally and in Virginia. (The reports on which this table is based can be found on Google Docs here.)

The reports for FY 2016-2022 provide separate scores for the Richmond district (ZIPs 224-225, 228-239, 244) and Northern Virginia (ZIPs 201, 220-223, 226-227). For FY 2023 and 2024, the district borders were revised and the two Virginia districts became one (201, 220-246). (If the chart isn’t showing for you, try refreshing your browser or click here.)

For the most part, the Richmond and Northern Virginia scores track with the national scores, sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse. Even when there was a big drop-off in scores for Q1 FY 2021 (Oct-Dec 2020) — due, as discussed above, to the workhour reduction plan launched in that summer and employee absenteeism caused by the pandemic — Virginia’s scores were close to the national average.

In Q1 FY 2022, the scores went back up — thanks to the changes in service standards that were implemented as the quarter began, which added one or two days to the 3-day mail. In Q1 FY 2023, when Virginia became one district, the scores were almost identical with the national scores. But in the first quarter of FY 2024, there’s a clear difference between the national scores and Virginia.

Causes and explanations

The Postal Service has offered several explanations for the problems with service performance.

At the meeting of the Board of Governors on February 8, 204, the Postal Service showed a few slides with the service performance numbers for the first quarter of FY 2024. Here are the slides for First Class mail with a 2-day service standard and a 3-5-day standard.

These charts show composite scores that merge single-piece mail with pre-sort mail. Since pre-sort always scores much higher, the composites don’t really convey how bad the scores were, especially in some districts like Virginia. But they were bad enough to require an explanation.

The Postal Service explained that the low scores were due to “operational disruptions within our network due to the insourcing of several Surface Transfer Centers after a supplier declared bankruptcy and the extended shutdown of a critical St Louis, Missouri, processing facility due to a mercury leak.”

The mercury leak occurred at the St. Louis NDC on Oct. 26, causing a two-week disruption. The bankruptcy probably refers to Matteson Flight Extenders (MFE), a company that had provided logistic support to the Postal Service since 1998. In May 2022, MFE declared bankruptcy following a dispute with the Postal Service over a STC it was operating in Brandywine, MD.

The Postal Service claimed MFE wasn’t keeping up with the mail flow according to the contract, while MFE blamed the faulty sorting equipment it had inherited from the previous contractor and the Postal Service’s decision to divert peak holiday mail to the facility when it wasn’t prepared to process it. The result was a four-mile long log jam of tractor trailers trying to get into the facility. The lawsuit, by the way, also involves XPO Logistics, DeJoy’s former company.

In its comments at the BOG meeting, the Postal Service makes it sound as if the closing of STCs was a result of the bankruptcy, but in the 2023 Annual Report, the Postal Service offers a somewhat different explanation: “shortcomings with adequate staffing and unanticipated complications with readiness” at contractor-staffed STCs “impacted our ability to meet our service targets,” which led management to make “strategic decisions to insource some of these contract operations.”

The Postal Service has also offered other explanations for the recent delays. In the letter to Virginia’s elected officials (Jan. 17, 2024) declining the invitation to attend a town meetings, the Postal Service cited “operational complications” setting up the RPDC in Sandston, the “unanticipated dissolution of a transportation vendor” (it’s not clear if this refers to the MFE bankruptcy or something else), and a tight labor market that makes it difficult to hire.

In December, when it was already clear that mail delays were spiking, the Postal Service also cited “supply chain issues,” and over the past few weeks, it’s been blaming winter weather.

All of these factors have no doubt contributed to delaying the mail across the country, but there’s one more possible cause for the slower mail in Virginia. You won’t hear the Postal Service mention this explanation, however.

Ending evening collections

The Richmond region was the first in the nation to experience what the Postal Service is calling Local Transportation Optimization (LTO). This initiative involves eliminating the evening collection of mail at post offices — most of them small, rural offices — for transport to the processing center. The mail waits until the next morning, when it’s picked up by the drivers dropping off the day’s mail.

The Postal Service implemented the collections optimization initiative in the Richmond region on October 28, 2023. About 300 post offices no longer get their mail collected after the post office closes. The Postal Service has told the PRC that the initiative would have no “material impacts” on service performance, but it’s possible that at least part of the problem in Virginia is the LTO implementation.

Fully and Hybrid Optimization (USPS PRESENTATION))

The Postal Service has provided the Commission with data on the impacts on single-piece First Class mail in the Richmond region: About 9 percent of this mail was subject to full optimization, and another 22 percent was subject to “hybrid optimization.”

At the “hybrid” offices, there is no evening pickup, but the next morning the trucks out collecting mail stop, on their return trip to the processing center, at some larger post offices to pick up whatever mail had been mailed by that hour — whenever that might be. The Postal Service has shared collections hours with the PRC, but only as a non-public finding. (For more about the initiative, see this previous post.)

In any case, that’s not enough data to determine how much the LTO initiative may have impacted Virginia’s low service performance scores. But during the first quarter of FY 2023, that’s the only place in the country where LTO was implemented.

The LTO initiative is rolling out across the country over the next several months, so time will tell how much it’s impacting service performance. One thing’s for sure: Having the mail sit at thousands of post offices overnight will not improve service performance scores.

— Steve Hutkins

[Update, Feb. 20, 2024: The Postal Service discussed the problems in Richmond in response to an information request today. It doesn’t mention the rollout of the LTO initiative and instead focuses on issues that occurred when converting the Sandston P&DC into a RPDC, the first to be activated in the DFA plan.]

(Featured Photo: Mail on the dock of the N. Houston RPDC, KHOU)

For more about Local Transportation Optimization:

Historic Sheboygan post office heads for the auction block

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

Last week the Postal Service issued a news release announcing the proposed relocation of retail services at the historic post office on North Ninth Street in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

According to the news release, the post office suffers from a “space deficiency” — whatever that is. The announcement doesn’t say it explicitly, but the clear implication is that the historic building will eventually be put up for sale.

It appears that the Sheboygan post office will be yet another casualty of the Postal Service’s 10-year austerity plan, aka Delivering for America — along with slowing mail delivery, raising prices, cutting jobs by consolidating processing plants and carrier operations, reducing retail hours, closing stations and branches, ending evening collection at rural post offices, relocations to smaller retail-only offices, and a fire sale of postal properties.

The relocation options

The Sheboygan post office employs about 95 people — 75 letter carriers to cover 52 routes plus 20 customer-service and carrier-support clerks — perhaps about 60 at a time. The building has 43,000 square feet, and the parking has about 60 or 70 spaces, mostly for delivery vehicles. There seems to be plenty of on-street parking as well.

That’s a very large building, and that’s probably enough parking for employees and customers. It’s not clear why the site or building is inadequate for current operations.

Aerial view of Sheboygan property (Source: Google Earth)

The news release simply says, ”Due to a space deficiency of the current Post Office, the Postal Service is now considering relocating retail services within three miles of the current location.”

The Postal Service says it’s looking for an existing building that has about 3,400 square feet with at least 22 parking spaces where it can put a small, retail-only office (aka a finance station). If retail were moved to a smaller location like this, the Postal Service would consider keeping carriers in the current location on Ninth Street.

Another possibility would be to keep the retail operation where it is while relocating the carriers elsewhere. To do this, the Postal Service wants an existing building that has about 7,400 square feet with at least 47 parking spots. Presumably this facility would house only carriers (aka a carrier annex).

Yet another alternative would be to move to an existing building that as about 21,100 square feet and 161 parking spaces “to add the carriers to the new location.” The wording is not quite clear, but apparently that means moving both the retail and carriers together to the same new location. This building would be half the size of the current facility, but with more parking.

Sheboygan PO, triptych over entrance (Source: David Gates Jr)

Perhaps inadequate parking is the “space deficiency” at the Ninth Street post office, or perhaps the issue is something else.

But all the attention to square feet and parking in the announcement shouldn’t obscure the obvious: The Postal Service is planning to sell the Sheboygan post office.

Once all the relocating is done, why would the Postal Service hold on to the property? If carriers are removed and there’s just a small retail-only operation, it will occupy about a tenth of the building. That won’t make sense. And why would it be necessary to remove the retail while keeping the carriers in the building?

The process could take several months, maybe a year or more, but it can only end one way. The question isn’t will the building be sold, but what will happen to it after that.  A government building? A corporate office? Or maybe a boutique hotel and/or restaurant — with a postal theme, of course.

No public meeting

The news release says that customers can submit comments by mail over the next 45 days. This will be the only way for the public to share its views.

Sheboygan PO Lobby (Source: Wisconsin Historic Society)

That’s because last June the Postal Service revised the federal regulations on post office relocations and eliminated the requirement for a public meeting.

As the Postal Service explained when it changed the regulations, during the pandemic (when meetings weren’t possible) “written notification proved to be a more effective means of communicating and provided community members with a more accessible method of providing comments.” (Of course, that doesn’t explain why written comments and a public meeting aren’t a better way to hear what the community has to say.)

Now the only way the public can comment is by writing a letter to the Postal Service. It won’t be possible for the public to view these letters, and there will be no opportunity to meet with USPS representatives face-to-face. It doesn’t matter that the post office is a historic landmark in downtown Sheboygan.

If you’d like to comment, write United States Postal Service, ATTN: Sheboygan WI Relocation, PO BOX 27497, Greensboro, NC 27498-1103. Comments are due by March 15, 2024.

A highlight of the New Deal in Wisconsin

The Sheboygan post office was constructed from 1932 to 1937. Unlike many New Deal post offices, which were usually based on standard plans from the Department of the Treasury’s design office, the Sheboygan office was designed by an architect, Edgar A. Stubenrauch, a native of Sheboygan (b. 1894). He also designed several other large buildings in Wisconsin and Michigan.

“Present City” (Source: Wisconsin Historic Society)

The post office has five murals painted by Schomer Lichtner (b. 1905 in Peoria) funded by the Treasury Relief Art Project. One of Lichtner other works was selected by President Roosevelt and hangs in the White House. The murals depict the growth of the area from the time of the Native Americans to the present: Indian Life, The Pioneer, The Lake, Agriculture, and Present City.

The interior lobby’s work tables, moldings and column capitals, done in the Art Deco style, were designed by Elizabeth Tuttle Holsman, (b. 1873 in Nebraska), a painter and sculptor, married to Henry Holsman, a pioneer automaker and one of Chicago’s most famous architects.

The post office was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. The nomination form has an extensive description of the building and murals, including several black-and-white photos. The Wisconsin Historical Society has a page on the post office as well.

According to the NRHP form, “The richness of the materials and of the architectural detailing, together with the abundance of murals, create a setting not found anywhere else in the survey. Schomer Lichtner’s murals are an integral part of the building and are good examples of this Wisconsin artist’s work. The extent of the commission also presents a rare collection of five canvases of Schomer’s work. Together, the art and architecture of the Sheboygan Post Office mark this building as one of the highlights of the Treasury Department’s post office projects in the state.”

There’s an excellent photo essay about the post office and its murals, as well as a video, on Post Office Fans, a site maintained by postal historian David W. Gates Jr., author of a book about Depression-era Wisconsin post offices and their murals.

— Steve Hutkins

(Featured photo: Sheboygan Post Office, David Gates)

Rally to restore public comments at meetings of USPS Board of Governors

Steve HutkinsBlog, News

Press release from Community and Postal Workers United (pdf here):

Thurs. Feb. 8, USPS HQ in Washington, DC: Rally outside at 2pm, Action inside at 4pm

Postal workers and customers are appalled at the recent decision by the Postal Board of Governors (PBOG) to limit public comment at their quarterly meetings to once per year. Since the implementation of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s Ten-Year Plan (“Delivering for America”), each PBOG meeting has had many public comment participants, bringing critiques and suggestions about delay of mail, poor working conditions, cutting and closing postal facilities and rising prices.

In the past few meetings, public comment has been limited to first three minutes, then ninety seconds, then twenty-five seconds, then in-person only and now not until next November.

“We will not be able to solve the problems of the US Postal Service in a day, but if we don’t even know the truth of what is happening at the ground level, how can anyone expect to repair the damage that has occurred,” says Sheri Butler, local officer of the American Postal Workers Union in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. “Postal workers and community members need to be able to freely speak the truth. It appears that the Postal Board of Governors and Postmaster Dejoy do not want the truth to be shared!”

In the past month the postal service has staged “public hearings” to supposedly get input from postal stakeholders about plans to “consolidate” mail processing from local Processing and Distribution Centers (P&DCs) to newly repurposed Regional Processing and Distribution Centers (RPDCs), sometimes hundreds of miles away.

The official USPS word is that “no closures” and “no layoffs” will occur, despite the fact that dozens of jobs are being “excessed’ or “transferred”, often forcing employees to move to another town, quit, or retire. Mail will clearly be delayed. And while local P&DCs are being converted into Local Processing Centers (LPCs) and often Sorting and Delivery Centers (S&DCs), the experience of the past year has shown these changes involve elimination of clerk, trucker, and supervisor jobs while adding hours of commute and travel time to letter carrier routes.

Local “spoke” post offices lose carriers and clerks to the S&DCs while having hours of operation reduced, or being closed altogether (see https://www.savethepostoffice.com/postal-service-announces-30-more-consolidations/).

“Postal Service officials are holding “public input meetings” across the country in regards to their 10-year plan to remake the Postal Service; with little to no public notice, meetings are being held early in the afternoon in obscure small facilities so they are attended by as few customers and employees as possible, resulting in minimal resistance.

“What is the USPS really trying to accomplish with their ‘smoke and mirrors’ charade?” asks Mark Ducharme, APWU clerk craft director in the Knoxville, Tennessee area.

Both the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chair Senator Gary Peters, have submitted dozens of detailed questions to the USPS about the Delivering for America plan, regarding job loss, costs and savings, service, facility closures and more.

The USPS has refused to provide substantive answers. “Perhaps we’d be a lot better off if we didn’t have a PRC,” said PMG DeJoy at a recent Mailers Technical Advisory Committee meeting. At a House hearing in May, DeJoy said the PRC had overstepped its authority. “The Postal Regulatory Commission sat over and … [was] actively participating in the destruction of the organization the last 15 years,”

Postal Service to end evening collection at thousands of post offices

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

Imagine if the Postal Service announced that it would continue providing 6-day delivery to urban areas but could no longer afford to do the same for rural communities because their relatively low mail volumes don’t justify the costs.

People living in these communities would undoubtedly complain that the plan was unfair, and elected officials who represent states and districts that are largely rural would be certain to object.

Yet the Postal Service has begun implementing a plan that discriminates against rural areas in much the same way, and it’s all happening under the radar.

The plan, Optimized Collections, aka Local Transportation Optimization (LTO), eliminates the evening pickup of mail at post offices for transportation to a processing center. Mail and packages sent at these offices, as well as the mail collected by carriers on their routes, will need to wait until the next morning for collection, when the truck from the processing center drops off the day’s mail for carrier delivery and PO boxes.

The LTO initiative was implemented in Virginia in October (as discussed here) and in Wisconsin in January (as discussed here). Earlier this week, the Postal Service notified unions and management associations that the LTO initiative will be implemented at 180 more P&DCs over the coming months.

The Postal Service hasn’t provided a number, but in all likelihood, the LTO initiative will end evening collections at something on the order of 10,000 to 12,000 post offices nationwide, perhaps more, depending on how many P&DCs eventually serve as truck hubs. (The list of 180 P&DCs probably represents only the first phase.)

Here’s the list along with a map. The list is sorted on the left by name and on the right by implementation date. The list is on Google Docs here. The original list in the notification is here.

The list includes about 110 P&DCs that are being downgraded to Local Processing Centers (LPCs), which handle only incoming mail; 30 Regional Processing and Delivery Centers (RPDCs), which handle incoming and outgoing mail, and, in these cases, also house an LPC; and about 40 P&DCs that haven’t yet been identified as a RPDC, LPC or S&DC.

A key part of the initiative is to insource the transportation between P&DCs and post offices from private Highway Contract Route drivers to USPS Postal Vehicle Operators (more on that here). The notification indicates that during February the Postal Service will hire and train more PVOs, as well as update or cancel the HCR contracts, in the Atlanta and Portland OR regions.

According to a letter to the President and Congress from Postmaster General DeJoy (Jan. 10, 2024), the Postal Service believes it will save $1 billion a year “by optimizing routes and decreasing thousands of underutized local trips a day.” The letter doesn’t explain, however, what the LTO plan will actually do.

The plan’s distance-and-volume criteria ensure that the impacted post offices will be almost exclusively small and rural offices. Post offices that are in or near cities will not be “optimized,” and those that are relatively far from cities won’t be impacted either if they have a relatively large mail volume — that is, if they serve a densely populated area.

The Postal Regulatory Commission has been asking about the LTO plan as part of its Public Inquiry into Delivering for America. In early December, the Postal Service responded to an information request about the plan, and later in the month, it responded to a follow-up request.

The Postal Service says that it did not request a PRC advisory opinion before implementation, which is required when a plan will change service on a nationwide basis, because there will be no “material impact to service performance.” The Postal Service also suggested that the implementation in Virginia and Wisconsin was just a pilot, so an advisory opinion would be premature.

But the notification list makes it clear that LTO is not a pilot at all. In fact, in its comments to the PRC, the Postal Service emphasized the “critical importance” of the initiative, and said it must be implemented at “a rapid pace.” And that’s exactly what’s happening — all without any opportunity for public comment or regulatory review.

Don’t tell unless asked

The Postal Service is apparently not even informing impacted customers that their mail will be held at the post office until the next day.

A USPS presentation about the optimization initiative from a couple of months ago contained a copy of a customer communication that informed customers about the changes. The Commission asked how the communication was being shared with customers.

One expected the Postal Service to say that it was placing notices in PO boxes and mailing them to residences and businesses. At the least, one expected to learn that the communication was posted in the post office lobby.

As it turns out, however, the notice to customers was intended to be used “as a means of responding to customer inquiries at a retail facility or the customer call center.” In other words, the customer had to ask a clerk, postmaster, or call center about it. Yet how were customers even to know to ask?

The Commission asked the Postal Service to provide a list of the impacted post offices in the Virginia implementation, along with the collection times at each office, but the Postal Service would only provide the list as a nonpublic filing. Apparently letting the public know when their mail will be picked up is considered commercially sensitive information.

Levels of optimization

The Postal Service explains that there are three levels of “optimization.”

One level is no optimization at all — evening pickups continue as usual. This applies to post offices located within 50 miles of the facility that will serve as the hub for the box trucks that move mail back and forth between processing facilities and post offices. (In its first iteration in Richmond VA, the radius was 25 miles; it expanded to 50 for Wisconsin.) Offices that are more than 50 miles but that average more than eight containers of mail daily are also excluded from optimization.

The second level is called Hybrid Optimization. As usual, a truck drops off the mail at the post office in the early morning, but then, on the return leg to the LPC or S&DC, it circles back to some post offices and picks up whatever mail has been sent by the pickup time. Everything mailed after this pickup, which will probably take place late morning or mid-day, would wait for collection until the next day. The hybrid model applies to post offices more than 50 miles from the LPC but that have at least one container of mail daily.

Under Full Optimization, there’s no evening collection at all. The mail sits at the post office until the next morning, waiting for the truck to arrive with the day’s mail. This applies to post offices that are more than 50 miles from the LPC and that don’t have at least one container of mail — in other words, small, rural post offices.

Because the Postal Service is not notifying patrons of the new collection times, customers at hybrid post offices probably won’t know there’s a period during the morning when they can mail something and still have it picked up the same day. That would obviously help mitigate the impacts of the initiative. But if the policy is “don’t tell unless asked,” many customers will never learn about the same-day pickup option.

The disparate impacts of the initiative on urban and rural areas were examined in previous posts on Richmond and Wisconsin. To see how this disparity plays out elsewhere, let’s take a look at Georgia and Oregon, where the plan is being implemented in February.

Optimizing Georgia

Here’s a map of Georgia’s 733 post offices. A list is on Google Docs here.

The post offices are color-coded as follows:

  • 111 post offices, marked in red, are less than 20 miles of the LPC, which will probably be co-located with an S&DC, so the carriers themselves can do the morning drop-offs and evening collections;
  • 223 post offices, marked in orange, are more than 20 but less than 50 miles from the LPC. They would continue to get an evening collection;
  • 14 offices, marked in yellow, are more than 50 miles from the LPC, but based on their population (more than 30,000), they probably have a large enough volume to be excluded from optimization;
  • 110 offices, marked in green, are more than 50 miles from the LPC, but with populations of 6,000 to 30,000, they probably have enough volume to merit hybrid optimization;
  • 275 offices, marked in blue, are beyond 50 miles and have fewer than 6,000 people, probably not enough to generate one container, so they would be subject to full optimization.

Overall, then, under the LTO plan, about 385 post offices in Georgia — more than half the state’s post offices — would no longer get an evening collection.

Another way to look at the initiative is with reference to the configuration of the Postal Service’s new network under the Delivering for America plan. In this realignment, the country is divided into sixty regions, each with its own Regional Processing & Distribution Center (RPDC). Each region is divided into several LPC service areas consisting of the 3-digit ZIP prefixes served by the LPC. (For more on the configuration, see this previous post.)

Most of Georgia falls within the Atlanta region, with its RPDC in the new mega-facility in Palmetto, southwest of Atlanta. This region has are four LPCs: Atlanta, North Metro, Augusta and Macon. A part of northwest Georgia is in the Nashville region, served by an LPC in Chattanooga (mail sent from this area would go to the Nashville RPDC for processing). The southern part of the state is in the Jacksonville region, served by LPCs in Jacksonville and Tallahassee; mail sent from these areas goes to Jacksonville RPDC for processing.

Here’s a map showing these LPC service areas. (Hover and click on the map to show popup.)

 

Here’s another map of Georgia, this one applying the optimization categories to ZIP codes. The red, orange and yellow ZIPs would be excluded from optimization; the blue and green would lose the evening pickup.

 

One of the Census criteria for “rural” is a population less than 5,000. The ZIP code areas of the fully optimized areas in Georgia average about 2,000 people, compared to 14,000 per ZIP for the state overall. In the ZIP areas with fully optimized offices, 86 percent of the population is rural; the areas excluded from optimization average 18 percent rural.

Here’s a map showing the population distribution, which helps illustrate that the impacted areas are primarily rural.

Optimizing Oregon

Here’s a map of Oregon’s 378 post offices. A list is on Google Docs here.

Here’s the breakdown by category:

  • 66 post offices (red) are within 20 miles of the LPC and would continue to get evening collection;
  • 75 post offices (orange) are between 20 and 50 miles of the LPC, so they would be excluded from optimization;
  • 10 offices (yellow) are more than 50 miles from the LPC, but based on their population (more than 30,000), they would be excluded from optimization;
  • 48 offices (green) are more than 50 miles from the LPC, but with populations of 6,000 to 30,000, they will probably be subject to hybrid optimization;
  • 180 offices (blue) are beyond 50 miles, have fewer than 6,000 people, and would be subject to full optimization.

Oregon thus has about 228 post offices that could lose their evening collection. That’s 60 percent of the state’s post offices.

Here’s a map showing the four LPC service areas that cover Oregon.

 

Nearly all of Oregon falls within the Portland region, with LPCs in Portland, Eugene, and Medford. Outgoing mail sent from any of these areas is processed in Portland. The eastern part of the states falls within the Boise, Idaho, region and is served by the LPC in Boise.

This map shows how the distance-and-volume criteria might play out in Oregon.

 

The ZIP codes of the fully optimized areas average about 1,100 people, compared to 8,700 for the state as a whole. In the ZIPs with fully optimized offices, 82 percent of the population is classified as rural, while the excluded areas average 13 percent rural.

Here’s a map one showing population distribution. It illustrates how the densely populated areas are in and around the LPCs, and they would be excluded from optimization. The less densely populated areas coincide, more or less, with the areas that would be subject to full or hybrid optimization.

The Postal Service has rejected the claim that the LTO plan differentiates between customers based on their distance from an LPC or on the population density of where they live. But these maps and the data on which they’re based suggest otherwise.

No material impact

The Postal Service seems to think that informing customers about the collection initiative is not very important. As it states in a response to the Commission’s information request, “From a customer standpoint, the Postal Service does not plan for the initiative to impact the pick-up times on collection boxes, the ‘start-the-clock’ date, or the applicable service standards. The Postal Service also does not anticipate material impact to service performance.”

While it seems clear that the plan could increase the time between customer drop-off and destination delivery, the Postal Service says, “not necessarily.” The Postal Service says that the changes in service standards implemented a couple of years ago now provide a “sufficient cushion” to allow it to meet the standards “even if mail is retrieved from candidate sites the next day.”

The Postal Service also notes that some mail from the candidate sites currently misses the processing window in the evening, so they get to the processing center the next day anyway. The Postal Service adds, “It should also be noted that we were not meeting our service performance goals prior to the initiation of Optimized Local Transportation.”

Overall, says the Postal Service, the “initiative is in its early stages, and thus, it is premature to conclude that the program will result in volumes failing to achieve service standards. By examining the outcome of the initiative and fine-tuning to solve any gaps, the Postal Service expects that achievement of service standards will not be impaired.”

The notification shared with stakeholders this week shows service performance data for the Richmond region since implementation of LTO. For the period Nov. 10, 2023, through Jan. 19, 2024, the performance score for single-piece First Class mail originating in the region was just 76 percent on time. The notification does not provide data differentiating mail sent from areas included in LTO and those excluded, nor does it show data for mail with different service standards (2, 3, 4 and 5 days). It’s likely that the optimized areas had even lower scores, especially for 3-to-5 day mail.

As the Postal Service acknowledges, it hasn’t been meeting service performance goals for some time. Over the past three years, the quarterly scores for single-piece First Class mail with a service standard of 3 to 5 days have averaged about 85 percent. That’s nine percentage points better than Richmond region for the ten weeks ending January 19.

Whether the optimization initiative played a role in the low scores remains an open question, but achieving performance targets will not get any easier when the mail isn’t picked up until the next day.

— Steve Hutkins

Related Posts:

Postal Service announces 30 more consolidations

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

The Postal Service has published notices of intent to consolidate thirty more processing & distribution centers. According to the notices, “it is highly likely” that each P&DC “will be modernized and repurposed as a Local Processing Center, a Sorting & Delivery Center, or both, consistent with the broader network redesign outlined in the DFA Plan.”

This means that the outgoing mail operation — sorting equipment and some personnel — at each of these thirty “losing” facilities will be consolidated to another P&DC. Most of the losing facilities will then be repurposed as Local Processing Centers (LPCs) that handle only incoming mail and parcels. Most of the “gaining” facilities will be reconfigured as one of the new network’s sixty Regional Processing & Distribution Centers.

The Postal Service no longer uses the terms “gaining” and “losing” in consolidations because most of the facilities that lose their outgoing operations will “gain” a Sorting & Delivery Center. This part of the facility will house letter carriers being relocated from delivery units at post offices, typically those within a 30-minute drive. The excess space created by consolidating the outgoing operation will be used for carrier distribution cases and, if the facility doesn’t already have one, a new package sorting machine.

Here are a list and map of the thirty losing and thirty gaining facilities (color coded to show the pairs). Additional information — like locations, distance between the gaining and losing facilities, etc. — can be found on the tab “30 consolidations.” This list is on Google Docs here.


Below is a list of the notices of intent, with links to Google Docs. All of the notices are in a pdf here. The notices also appear on this USPS page, where all status reports on the consolidations are located, but you need to download them from there. These notices include links to the online survey where the public can submit comments.

Consolidation studies are underway or completed for about 29 other facilities, bringing the total to 59 so far. This does not include some consolidations that, for one reason or another, did not required a Mail Processing Facility Review (MPFR). Eventually more than 150 such consolidations will take place, and nearly 200 Local Processing Centers (LPCs) will be created.

For fourteen of the thirty consolidations, mail sent across town will have to go out of state for processing. That’s likely to lead to delays, though the Postal Service says the network transformation will actually improve service performance.

It’s hard to know what to make of that claim. As the APWU’s Don Cheney points out, the service standard for local First Class Mail is two days, yet the service standard for mail sent between the ZIPs of most of the losing and gaining facilities is three days. Of the thirty consolidations, there are 19 where there’s a three-day standard for mail sent from the ZIP of a losing facility to the ZIP of a gaining facility (see the main table, tab “30 consolidations,” column “FCM Service Standard.”) Here are a few examples:

  • Grand Junction CO 81505 to Denver CO 80266 (253 miles)
  • Missoula MT 59801 to Spokane WA 99224 (204 miles)
  • Yakima WA 98903 to Seattle WA 98168 (153 miles)
  • McAllen TX 78501 to San Antonio TX 78284 (244 miles)
  • Casper WY 82609 to Billings, MT 59101 (280 miles)

If it takes three days to send a letter from Grand Junction to Denver — a one-way trip — how will the Postal Service achieve a two-day standard for mail sent within the Grand Junction area if it has to travel to and from Denver? Plus, this mail will need to be processed not just in Grand Junction (being prepared for the trip to Denver) but also in Denver (the RPDC handling outgoing mail) and then, again, Grand Junction (the LPC handling the incoming mail).

It’s not clear yet how many employees could be impacted by the consolidations. The notices of intent say, “This modernization evaluation will not result in this facility’s closure or career employee layoffs.” But there are other ways to eliminate jobs besides layoffs. One of the goals of the network transformation is clearly to cut jobs — 50,000 of them — and a large portion of these will come from consolidating the processing network.

For consolidations where the Postal Service has provided numbers, the initial findings have averaged about twenty career positions “excessed” per facility. But the final reviews have shown much higher numbers: 116 career positions impacted in the Greenville, SC, consolidation; 99 in Minneapolis, MN; 43 in Provo, UT; and 63 in Trenton, NJ. If the consolidations average 80 impacted positions each and there are 150 consolidations, about 12,000 positions would be impacted.

Many employees may be eligible to take a new job in another facility, but they won’t be able to do so because it’s too far away. The average distance between the thirty losing facilities and their gaining facility is 150 miles. In a couple of cases, the distance is 27 and 35 miles, but for most consolidations, the distance is more than 100 miles – much too far for a daily commute.

While the MPFR process requires notifications to unions, management and the public, as well as a public comment period and a public meeting before a final decision will be made, it’s all mostly a formality. The notices of intent say, “The studies are just beginning, and the Postal Service anticipates communicating initial findings in the coming month or two.” But in almost every case, the Postal Service will decide to go ahead with the consolidation.

Not that there aren’t exceptions. The South Suburban P&DC in Bedford Park, IL, was studied for consolidation of its outgoing operations to the new Chicago South RPDC in Forest Park, IL. Earlier this week, the Postal Service announced that it had decided not to proceed. Instead, the Peoria P&DC is being studied for consolidation of its outgoing operations to the South Suburban facility.

Nearly all of the thirty facilities have already appeared on our list of potential consolidations. An article about the network transformation is here, and the latest version of the list is here. Note that the lists, while derived from various USPS notifications, probably contain errors.

— Steve Hutkins

(Featured Image: Brockton MA P&DC, studied for consolidation to Providence RI)

CPWU Winter 2024 Newsletter

Steve HutkinsBlog, News

The Winter 2024 newsletter from Community & Postal Workers United features articles on stifling public comment at meetings of the USPS Board of Governors; efforts to encourage President Biden to nominate former Representative Brenda Lawrence and policy expert Sarah Anderson to the USPS Board of Governors; opposition to the consolidation of the Cheyenne P&DC; a rally in Milwaukee protesting working conditions; and the announcement of a rally at the BOG meeting on Feb. 8.

Read the newsletter here.

East Tennessee’s congressional delegation isn’t pleased with answers to post office questions

Steve HutkinsBlog, News

Knox News: The U.S. Postal Service intends to move some of its Knoxville operations northwest to Louisville, Kentucky. And East Tennessee’s congressional delegation is not happy about it.

The proposed change is part of the post office’s Delivering for America plan, which aims to slash delivery costs and make the postal system more efficient. Operations from local processing centers – like the ones in Knoxville, Johnson City and Chattanooga – will be consolidated into large regional centers. In this case, that’s in Louisville.

The USPS had a public listening meeting in November explaining the plan, though some say it simply filled a requirement instead of offering detailed information about what the change means for workers and post office users.

Days later, U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett wrote a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy saying the meeting was a waste of time.

“Worse, the arrogance on display by the USPS and its management during this so-called meeting or listening session is unacceptable,” he wrote, adding that members of his staff reported valid questions were not answered.

Burchett was joined by Reps. Diana Harshbarger and Chuck Fleischmann in a second letter to the post office in which they emphasized East Tennessee postal facilities employ more than 1,200 constituents.

They asked questions of the postmaster general, including:

  • When will a final decision about the future of handling centers be made?
  • What impact will changes to facilities have on delivery standards in East Tennessee?
  • What equipment changes are needed?
  • What plans are in place to prevent transportation costs and added delays?

Rachel Partlow, Burchett’s communications director, told Knox News the postmaster general’s office responded to the letter but did not answer any of the questions. DeJoy simply reiterated that there will not be layoffs.

Steve Hutkins, founder of the Save the Post Office worker advocacy group, told Knox News the claim is a technicality.

Upon consolidation, employees at Knoxville’s processing and distribution center could face the choice to commute to Louisville, which is at least a 3 hour and 30 minute drive from Knoxville, transfer elsewhere or quit the post office altogether.

“That’s what (USPS) is counting on,” Hutkins said. “(Employees) will just have to leave and (USPS) will be able to say ‘We didn’t lay anybody off, but unfortunately people decided they didn’t want the job.'”

USPS predicted in a release that 32 Knoxville positions will be moved.

Read more: Representatives demand answers on Knoxville post office changes

USPS tells regulator, “mind your own regulations”

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

The Postal Service has started off the New Year by refusing to answer important questions about its 10-year plan, Delivering for America. Earlier this week, the Postal Service told the Postal Regulatory Commission that its latest information request was outside the statutory authority of the Commission. The Postal Service has basically told the PRC to mind its own business.

As part of its Public Inquiry into DFA, the Commission had asked for data about routes and costs for transportation between postal facilities, as well as more information about what happens to the post offices that see their letter carriers consolidated to a Sorting & Delivery Center. The Postal Service refused to provide the data and instead argued that the information request should be withdrawn.

This lack of transparency is becoming a central feature of DeJoy’s tenure as Postmaster General. The Postal Service apparently prefers to tell the story of its massive network transformation through clever television spots, like this year’s holiday commercial showing miniature postal vehicles going from processing facilities to post offices to homes, all made out of postal packaging materials. It’s like a model train set of postal world.

In the real world, it’s a different story. Commercial mailers, postal lessors, truck contractors, and other stakeholders are left in the dark about what changes are coming next. At public meetings about plant consolidations, the USPS representatives are refusing to answer questions from employees and the public. Members of Congress are demanding more transparency on the potential impacts of DFA on postal employees, customers, and service performance (as in this letter to DeJoy from Senator Gary Peters, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee).

Instead of sharing more information, the Postmaster General continues to attack the PRC itself. In his cover letter to the Section 207 Report to Congress filed a few weeks ago, the Postmaster General reiterated his complaint that “our regulator has a demonstrated tendency to resist change or to move only incrementally as it concerns our efforts to acquire new business and save this institution.”

Information request No. 7

The Commission’s information request — it’s No. 7 in the DFA Public Inquiry docket — asked for details about transportation routes between processing facilities, including miles, costs, and truck space utilization, and whether the trip was a Highway Contract Route (HCR) trip or a Postal Vehicle Services (PVS) trip. The request asked for similar data on transportation between processing facilities and post offices. Another set of questions asked for more details, including the estimated cost savings, about the plan to insource transportation by converting some HCR routes to PVS routes (as discussed in this post).

The Commission also asked the Postal Service to explain the criteria used to determined which “underutilized and eroding existing facilities” (the Postal Service’s description) would be repurposed as Sorting & Delivery Centers. The Commission requested more specific details about what’s happening at post offices that have lost their carriers, including how the extra space is being used, the number of clerks and carriers who have been relocated or terminated, and what type of work is being done by the staff remaining at the post office.

The Commission also asked for more information about the transfer hubs that will serve those post offices that aren’t consolidated with a S&DC — which includes about 25,000 of the nation’s 31,000 post offices.

And lastly, the Commission asked how the Postal Service was dealing with the truck driver employment shortage described in two recent OIG reports.

The Postal Service’s Response

In response to the information request, the Postal Service declined to provide any of the data and instead filed a motion for reconsideration arguing that the request should be withdrawn because it is not “within the Commission’s authority and the legitimate scope of this docket” and “is based on a material error of law.”

Similar sorts of information have been provided in the past as part of the Commission’s Advisory Opinions on consolidating processing facilities, closing post offices, and changing service standards. But the Postal Service says the current Public Inquiry docket is not the same as these prior N-cases (the docket prefix for Advisory Opinions), so requests for analogous information are inappropriate.

“In harkening back to prior N-cases, (which again, this is not), and in issuing information requests that seek this sort of information, the Commission is treating this docket as if an advisory opinion had been requested regarding the Plan’s network efforts.”

The Postal Service says it has not requested an Advisory Opinion because the network changes now underway do not constitute “nationwide changes in the nature of postal services” (the phrase used in the advisory opinion statute).

The Commission has plenty of reasons to be concerned that the network transformation will indeed change the nature of postal services. For example, the Postal Service is currently implementing an initiative called Optimized Collections, which eliminates the evening pickup of mail at small, rural post offices. Mail sent from these offices will need to wait until the next morning for pickup, when the mail from processing centers is dropped off.

When asked why such an initiative did not require an advisory opinion, the Postal Service claimed (in response to Information Request No. 6) that even if the mail sits overnight at the post office, there would not be any “material impacts to First-Class Mail service performance.” (Tell that to customers when they learn that the mail sent today won’t leave the post office until the next day.)

In the past, when the Postal Service made significant changes in the processing and delivery network that also impacted postal services on a nationwide basis, it submitted to the requirement of the advisory opinion process and shared all sorts of data, rarely balking at a Commission information request.

The recent advisory opinions done for aspects of the DFA plan focused on changes in service standards and encompassed only one aspect of the network changes — shifting First Class mail from air to ground transportation. As part of these advisory opinions, the Postal Service did not share anything about the massive network changes it was planning.  Instead, the Postal Service cleverly detached the changes in the network from the changes in service standards, thus evading the kinds of questions the Commission is now asking.

As for the specific details sought by the information request, the Postal Service’s motion for reconsideration takes the requests one by one and shows why each of them is not being fulfilled. According to the Postal Service, the “time and effort required to gather (and to assess) such voluminous data are inversely proportional to any function they might serve in the pursuit of legitimate regulatory objectives.” Furthermore, in some cases, the data concern labor matters outside of the Commission’s jurisdiction. Overall, says the Postal Service, it is unclear “how such information is relevant to the Commission’s stated objectives in the instant docket.”

What comes next?

In some respects, the situation is back to where things stood in June, when the Postal Service opposed the creation of the Public Inquiry in the first place.

At that time, the Postal Service argued that the Commission, rather than acting outside of its authority by establishing a public inquiry docket, “should use established mechanisms to ensure adequate oversight, consistent with its past decisions and its statutory authority… An open-ended PI docket that encompasses review of all possible initiatives under the Plan is wholly unnecessary, unwarranted, and contrary to the Commission’s statutory authority.”

The Commission rejected that argument, and the public inquiry proceeded. The Postal Service responded to the first six information requests by providing almost nothing in the way of actual data about facilities, impacts, and costs. In Information Request No. 7, the Commission finally got around to asking for the hard data, and that was too much for the Postal Service.

The Commission is now faced with a decision. It can decide that the Postal Service is correct in its interpretation of the law and remove the information request. Or it can deny the motion for reconsideration and direct the Postal Service to provide the data. The latter seems more likely, since the Commission probably anticipated the Postal Service’s argument and determined that the request was indeed within its legal authority.

If the Commission denies the motion, the Postal Service would have to choose between providing the information in some form or another or refusing to comply with the Commission’s request.

If the Postal Service were to refuse to comply, the Commission has the power to subpoena the information. That would probably lead to a protracted legal case before the DC Circuit.

That possibility was actually raised at the outset of the Public Inquiry. In its first motion arguing that the Commission was exceeding its authority when it established the docket, the Postal Service issued this warning: “An attempt to use the Commission’s subpoena power as a legal basis to initiate Docket No. PI2023-4 would be mistaken.”

There’s no timeframe for the Commission to rule on the motion for reconsideration, so it may be a while before we see what comes next. In fact, another possibility is that the Commission will not even respond to the motion, thereby avoiding a legal confrontation with the Postal Service that could end the inquiry itself.

The Commission’s ruling and the Postal Service’s response could be extremely consequential. If the case goes to the DC Circuit, it will involve basic issues of administrative authority – just the kind of issues the Supreme Court is confronting in several current cases.

If the Postal Service refuses to provide the information, it may not only lead to a protracted legal dispute. It will also add to the growing controversy over the lack of transparency as the Postal Service moves forward with Delivering for America.

— Steve Hutkins

USPS to Open New Sorting and Delivery Centers as That Approach Comes Under Fire

Steve HutkinsBlog, News

ecommercebytes: The USPS is opening new sorting and delivery centers (S&DC) in January and February 2024, calling them an integral part of its Delivering for America plan “to create a best-in-class processing and delivery network.”

In its announcement, the USPS wrote the following:

“The S&DCs will revitalize our network of nearly 19,000 delivery units — the last stop for mail and packages before they are delivered by our carriers. The Postal Service has targeted key markets where it is beneficial to aggregate delivery units into fewer, larger, centrally located S&DCs — leveraging both repurposed and new facilities —to simplify the entire network and create a more reliable and efficient.”

The USPS said the opening of the new sorting and delivery centers would not impose Post Office closures, and it said the closures would not result in any changes for customers with regard to their local Post Office retail and PO Box delivery services.

However, that was called into question by postal expert Steve Hutkins who publishes the Save the Post Office website. In a November 13, 2023 article, he wrote about one of the first of the new sorting centers set to open on January 13, 2024 in Pompano Beach, Florida:

“The centralization of letter carriers in Pompano Beach won’t just impact the 450 carriers who will be relocated. The five post offices also have about 80 customer service clerks, processing clerks, managers, supervisors, and custodial workers. Some of these positions will also transition to the new S&DC, and some will remain behind to manage the retail operations in the post offices. But many of these jobs will become unnecessary due to the consolidation of operations and the use of new sorting machines in the S&DC. Those employees will be “excessed” — they’ll have to find another postal job, most likely outside of Pompano Beach.”

Hutkins was quoted in an article on Friday where he told the Guardian newspaper that “the drastic network changes at the USPS under DeJoy are occurring with little transparency and oversight, especially given the impacts of the changes.” The Guardian provides greater detail into the “fight” over the USPS’s Delivering for America plan.

The schedules for the new S&DCs “launches” announced this week are listed below:

Read more: USPS to Open New Sorting and Delivery Centers as That Approach Comes Under Fire – EcommerceBytes