How to Save the US Postal Service
October 24, 2011 9 Comments
The United States Postal Service is in trouble. At a critical point in its history, what will it do to stamp out its debt and continue to deliver mail? I have a few suggestions, but first let’s take a look at how the US Postal Service got to this point.
With roots as far back as 1775, the USPS has seen the mail delivery system undergo radical transformation from the legendary Pony Express to mail trains to cars and planes. Originally a government entity, the US Postal Service became an independent agency of the US Government in 1971 and hasn’t directly received any taxpayer funds since the early ’80s (with a few minor exceptions). Since the early 2000s, revenue has been dropping sharply, prompting the USPS to increase postage rates while also looking for ways to decrease costs. The USPS posted a budget deficit of $8.5 billion in 2010. To fix this increasing shortfall, the USPS has proposed closing up to 3700 small post offices, raising rates again, and only delivering mail five days instead of six.
Others, such as Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Apple, have also proposed ideas to help save the Postal Service. Sen. McCaskill suggested in a Congressional hearing:
“I’m not sure that there has been a marketing campaign about the value of a written letter. … I really believe that if somebody began to market the value of sending a written letter to someone you love, you might be surprised on how you could stabilize some first-class mail.”
Apple’s new Cards app, announced as a part of its latest keynote event for the iPhone4S, lets you “create and mail beautifully crafted cards personalized with your own text and photos — right from your iPhone or iPod touch” for only $2.99. Will these two things help save the USPS? I wouldn’t use the word ‘save,’ but they certainly won’t hurt.
The core problem facing the Postal Service is the way its business model is set up. Think about it: the Postal Service doesn’t charge people to have mail delivered but charges a person to have a PO Box at a Post Office, where the mail already goes before being delivered. To help you understand this a little better, it would be like Taco Bell including home delivery in its prices, but charging extra to go to the physical store to pick it up. Not a very smart business model is it?
So, how do we save the Post Office? Here’s my proposed idea. Feel free to critique it, add to it, and/or pass it along to elected officials.
- Stop charging for PO Boxes- With increasing mobility and concern over privacy/security, using PO Boxes as the primary “end point” of the mail system is much more viable than it was 20-30 years ago. With many households having multiple members getting out of the house at some point of the day to go to work, run errands, or transport kids around, it is only a minor inconvenience (if any at all) to make one more stop at the local Post Office to pick up the mail or drop off mail to be sent. Additionally, a person wouldn’t have to worry about the security of their mail. By having it all sent to a PO Box, no one can drive by an unlocked mailbox (for most people), open it, and take out credit card statements, utilities bills, etc . Also, each time a person/family goes on vacation, they wouldn’t have to hassle with contacting the Post Office to hold their mail. PO Boxes are more secure and, since all mail already travels through a Post Office before it is delivered to a house, no additional costs would be incurred with this change.
The USPS could still generate revenue from PO Boxes despite giving every household one for free. If an individual/household wanted more than one box, then a rental fee could be charged for that second box. Additionally, each Post Office could offer a service that alerts an individual when their is mail in his or her PO Box via text message, email, etc. so that they don’t have to go by the Post Office if there is no need to.
- Start charging for home delivery (w/ exceptions)– Where do you think a lot of the aforementioned budget shortfall comes from? I would imagine a lot of it has to do with fuel costs. If you’ve ever seen a mail delivery vehicle, you can tell they aren’t the most fuel-efficient things ever created (the whole stop-at-every-mailbox thing doesn’t help MPGs either). By giving every household a PO Box free-of-charge, the need for delivery would be greatly reduced. To further reduce the cost of delivery, the USPS should start charging a fee to do so (just like any pizza company does). Depending on the frequency of delivery needed, the USPS could charge yearly, weekly, or daily delivery schedules in addition to charging one-time delivery fees on top of that (companies that share an office complex with one mail box would split the costs between them).
Of course, exceptions to this delivery charge would be made for those that are home-bound or unable to make it to a Post Office for whatever reason. All they would need to do is to fill out an application indicating need and submit it to their local Post Office.
- Become more active in social media- Let’s face it, if you are a business that wants to connect with consumers, you need to be active in social media. Neither the USPS Facebook Page nor Twitter account has had active updating/posting. With a company like the Postal Service, it is important to be able to connect with customers and, like Sen. McCaskill was hinting at, develop the emotional attachment that some people have to sending snail mail. They could even create a Facebook or online tool that is similar to Apple’s Cards app that would allow people to send postcards, written letters from the internet. Meet the next generation of mail-senders where they are: online.
So there it is. One idea of how to help the United States Postal Service stamp out its debt and become a First Class service again. What do you think? Would it work if it could ever be implemented? Leave your thoughts in the Comments.
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[image credit: Bitch Cakes on Flickr]