Texas Two-Step: S&DC holds a grand opening, Post Office gets downsized

Steve HutkinsBlog, Featured

The Postal Service will hold the grand opening of the new Sorting & Delivery Center in Bryan, Texas, on February 23, 6 to 8 pm. The Bryan S&DC will be the new home for about a hundred letter carriers who have been working out of the College Station post office a few miles away.

The Bryan S&DC is one of five new S&DCs that are going into operation this month across the country. The others are in Utica, New York; Gainesville, Florida; Panama City, Florida, and Woburn, Massachusetts. Seventeen post offices will see their carrier operations relocated to these S&DCs (list here).

The grand opening announcement for the Bryan S&DC says, “Come tour the facility and view some exciting enhancements.” Among the enhancements will be the new carrier sorting cases spotted online last week. There may also be a new breakroom, renovated bathrooms, modern lockers, and other workplace improvements, as discussed in the current issue of the USPS Eagle Magazine.

The announcement says, “Enjoy some light refreshments along with meeting the leadership team and fellow team members.” The leadership team may include the district manager, the postmaster of the Bryan Post Office (who may be responsible for overseeing the S&DC as well), and perhaps some of the supervisors who had been working at the College Station post office. It’s not likely that the Postmaster General will make the trip, but maybe a couple of representatives from USPS headquarters in Washington will be on hand.

Finally, the announcement says, “Employees are encouraged to bring your families, no RSVP required.” It’s not clear if this means that USPS employees at other facilities may also attend. The carriers who work at other post offices slated to have their routes transferred to Bryan might be curious about what their future holds.

The Bryan S&DC is not the first of its kind, but almost. The first S&DC opened in Athens, Georgia, in November, with carriers from the Watkinsville post office the first to be “converted.” Early reports suggest the transition has had its problems. Not all the carriers are pleased with their new digs in the S&DC, and some don’t like the longer commute and the long drive from the S&DC to their routes. Some subs may have already quit. Customers at the Watkinsville post office have said they’re unhappy that some of their long-time clerks transferred elsewhere, and there have been reports of delayed and missing mail.

The cost of S&DC logistics

College Station is home to the main campus of Texas A&M University. It has a population over 120,000, with about 58.000 addresses. The city has two post offices — the main office on Harvey Mitchell Parkway and the historic Northgate Station on North Houston, on the A&M campus.

According to an internal USPS presentation from July 29, 2022, the Bryan S&DC may absorb routes and carriers from five post offices — College Station, Caldwell, Hearne, Navasota, and North Zulch. The presentation indicates that about half of the facility’s 120,000 total square feet are available for more carriers. (This excess space was probably the result of processing consolidations that took place in 2012.)

While a total of 96 routes may eventually transfer to Bryan, in this first phase of the rollout, only the College Station post office will have its 68 carriers relocated to Bryan. With 6-day delivery, vacation days, sick days, and so on, it takes more than one carrier to cover a route — nationwide, there are about 330,000 carriers for the 233,000 routes – so “converting” the 68 routes means relocating about 100 carriers from College Station to Bryan.

Here’s a table from the presentation showing the breakdown among the five post offices, along with the distances and travel times between the post offices and Bryan S&DC.

Under the current system, which has been in place for decades, a truck operating under contract with the Postal Service (a Highway Contract Route, or HCR) takes the mail early each morning from a processing center to the post office, and the carriers deliver from there. At the end of the day, the HCR truck does the route again to pick up the sent mail and take it to the processing center.

Under the new system, there won’t be an HCR truck delivering to each post office. Instead, the carriers will start their day at the S&DC and head directly to their routes. It’s basically a hub and spoke system, similar to what UPS and FedEx use, as shown in this graphic from the July 29th presentation illustrating the Bryan S&DC and its spoke offices. (Click on the Google map to see the five spokes more clearly.)

With the hub-and-spoke system, each route will get several miles longer — approximately the distance between the S&DC and the post office. The College Station post office is about 7 miles from the Bryan S&DC, so a route that starts, say, one mile from the College Station post office will end up starting somewhere between 6 and 8 miles from the Bryan S&DC — on average, 7 more miles.

The Postal Service puts the drive time between the Bryan S&DC and College Station post office at 9 minutes. That’s wishful thinking. According to Google Maps, the drive time is more like 15 minutes, depending on traffic and route. (Google updates its maps constantly; you can check the latest here.)

Even using the Postal Service’s optimistic estimate, the new system results in significant increases in miles and drive time. The July 29th presentation shows that for the 68 routes going to Bryan, carriers will drive a total of 479 more miles, each way.

Over the course of 300 days, that’s about 287,000 additional miles, 6,100 more work hours, and over $700,000 in additional costs for transportation and labor (more on the cost analysis here). The labor costs will manifest in more overtime hours and more routes — the presentation shows Bryan will need 8 to 16 more routes overall to make up for the fact that each route will cover fewer addresses.

The College Station post office is by far the closest of the five offices marked for transitioning to Bryan. The other four average 25 miles from the S&DC — just about the maximum “reach” under the new system. The Postal Service says it’s limiting the drive time between S&DC to spoke post office to 30 minutes, although that could change.

When the four other post offices set for conversion send their 28 routes to Bryan, the distance and cost differentials will be even more extreme. The July 29th presentation shows that the new system will add 1,164 miles to the 96 routes, each way, every day. That adds up to 700,000 more miles annually, 13,000 more work hours, and $1.7 million in additional costs.

That’s just for the Bryan S&DC. Imagine the costs when there are 600 S&DCs consolidating carrier routes from 6,000 post offices, which seems to be the plan. As discussed in this post, the costs could top $2 billion a year.

And that doesn’t include the additional transportation costs — and unpaid work hours — that will be borne by postal workers who have to commute further to the S&DC. In the case of Bryan, the July 29th presentation shows that sixty percent of the carriers will have a longer commute, and twenty percent will see their commute increase by 15 to 30 minutes, each way.

Downsizing the post office

The Postal Service will recoup some of these new costs by reducing the number of employees who work at the post office. Right now, the customer service employees at College Station not only cover the retail windows and PO boxes, they also help the carriers. When the carriers are relocated to Bryan, clerks will have less work to do. Some of them will be “excessed” and need to find positions in other facilities, perhaps 40 or 50 miles away.

Eventually the total number of clerks in the country will dwindle through attrition. The Postmaster General says he wants to eliminate 50,000 jobs. Many, perhaps most, of them will be the clerks who work at post offices.

With the carriers gone and fewer employees to supervise, postmaster positions will eventually be downgraded. The Postal Service has said that “incumbent postmasters in the spoke offices and their corresponding grades will remain unchanged.” But for how long? In a recent interview with KBTX, the executive Vice President of the association of postmasters said, “We’ve been told there will be no significant changes to supervisory staffing at least through February, but we’re looking for some longer term commitments beyond that.”

As for the College Station post office itself, the Postal Service has shared a statement with KBTX saying, “The creation of S&DCs will not change the locations of the Postal Service’s retail units, including PO Box service.” But again, for how long?

The College Station post office is a fairly large post office, with over 26,000 square feet and something on the order of 120 employees, maybe more. (Between the College Station post office and the Northgate Station, there are nearly 150.)

College Station Post Office (1988) (Photo: KBTX)

Once the carriers are gone, more than half of this floor space will be deemed “excess.” The Postal Service will eventually decide to do a space analysis. It will determine that the retail operation — which may have a dozen customer service employees remaining — needs a space a third or a fourth the size of the College Station facility.

The Postal Service will hold a public meeting about relocating the post office, put the building up for sale, then move to a smaller space, perhaps in a nearby shopping center like Parkway Square or Culpepper Village. Ten years ago, during an earlier downsizing initiative, this sort of thing happened all the time. It will become increasingly common as the S&DC rollout rolls on.

Don’t look for the Postal Service to keep any promises about maintaining the location of post offices impacted by the S&DC network transformation. If the post office has a significant amount of excess space, the Postal Service will look for alternatives, like relocating or just closing the post office completely. The Delivering for America plan explicitly calls for “consolidating low-traffic” post offices.

The College Station post office will first get downsized by losing its carriers, and then get downsized again by moving to a smaller space — that is, if it’s not closed completely.

In the meantime, there’s the grand opening of the Bryan S&DC to celebrate.

— Steve Hutkins

(For more about the delivery network transformation, check out our S&DC Dashboard.)