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Adapting the Post Office To the Digital Age

Soulskill posted about 4 years ago | from the relying-on-spam-is-bad-business dept.

Communications 299

Hugh Pickens writes "Paul B. Carroll and Chunka Mui write in the Washington Post that with projected deficits through 2020 of $238 billion, the debate over potential changes at the US Postal Service is like a fight over the dessert bar on the Titanic: email has already supplanted letters, more people will send money via PayPal rather than mail checks, people will download their movies and books, check their bills online, and receive information about their investments electronically. Delivery volume for first-class mail fell 22 percent from 1998 through 2007, tumbled an additional 13 percent last year and was down 3 percent in the first half of this year despite heavy mailings from the Census Bureau. USPS's future lies in things that need to be delivered physically: shoes, computers and other objects, and the USPS has assets that could let it take on UPS and FedEx. 'USPS needs to start with the future and work backward to the present,' write Carroll and Mui. 'It needs to forecast volumes for all types of its business five, 10 and 15 years out and design a business model that will thrive under those scenarios. Only then can it figure out what radical changes need to be made now.'"

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First!!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014060)

UNNNGH

USPS does a very poor job (2, Insightful)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 4 years ago | (#33014606)

The company that gets my shipping money just needs to do a few things:

  • Track the package(s), the more accurately the better
  • Deliver the materials when they said they would
  • Pay quickly and reliably upon loss

USPS fails miserably on the first and third of these. If they want my shipping business, they'll have to do all three.

In the meantime, UPS seems to have the most accurate tracking, has given us the least trouble when it comes to errors they made (like delivering packages to the wrong address, or damaging well packed items in transit), and barring really extreme weather, they almost never fail to deliver on time or sooner.

There are some less-critical areas where USPS could improve as well.

  • They take far too many days off
  • If there is much snow in the way, they won't deliver
  • Cancels are almost always illegible

Remove the artificial monopoly (3, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | about 4 years ago | (#33014078)

The first thing that needs to be done is to remove the artificial monopoly congress created for the USPS making it so they are the only ones that can deliver first-class mail, once this happens more people will use mail (USPS or otherwise) because the inefficiency will be gone because it will either be deliver or go broke.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (3, Insightful)

ErikTheRed (162431) | about 4 years ago | (#33014104)

And then remove their union contract that states that they can never decrease their workforce, even if they don't need as many workers due to reduced volume.

Here's what I don't get: the Political Left tells us out of one side of their mouth that only the government can be the perfect master of fairness in the workplace, and out of the other side of their mouth they tell us that government workers need unions. At the most, one of these can be true. Some would argue that neither is true...

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (3, Interesting)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 4 years ago | (#33014198)

And then remove their union contract that states that they can never decrease their workforce, even if they don't need as many workers due to reduced volume.

I don't know where you got that notion from but it simply doesn't match reality as I have seen. Post Offices in small towns have closed recently due to decreased volume and the employees from those offices have been let go. Existing offices are not hiring, even to replace retiring workers.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (1)

Lord Bitman (95493) | about 4 years ago | (#33014342)

There is a huge difference between "decreasing workforce due to decreased workload" and "closing down entirely because you can no longer afford to pay enough staff to deliver 100,000 letters a day when only 1,000 letters a day actually need delivering"

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (2, Interesting)

kimvette (919543) | about 4 years ago | (#33014206)

And then remove their union contract that states that they can never decrease their workforce, even if they don't need as many workers due to reduced volume.

You cannot convince me they never decrease their workforce. For ten years local post offices with 2 to 6 service windows consistently have only one customer service person on staff at any given time, even through the holiday times. The only time they seem to add anyone on any more is tax day.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (1)

Lord Bitman (95493) | about 4 years ago | (#33014356)

Would you hire additional workers if you were forced to do so only on the condition that you could never fire any of them without closing down entirely?

The political left isn't saying that. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014248)

That is what you are deciding to say the political left is saying.

Back in the real world we have the whole sorry saga of workers exploited as long as the government does not intervene or the workers get fed up and go , er, postal.

And we also have branches of government that are independent from each other (labour tribunals are a common feature in modern, democratic countries) so the apparent contradiction you are trying to point out, actually is not a given, unless you have a political system that is particularly incompetent, corrupt, or both.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014266)

Hi,

Work for the government and am part of a union (management here inspires awe with the inventive ways they have for incompetence).

Nothing inspires more hatred of government than working for it.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014306)

Responding to your strawman:

Even if the 'Political Left' says the government can be the perfect master of fairness, this doesn't mean that unions are useless. It is only because you don't understand unions that you would say this. Unions have started strikes and opposed policies of their employers when it was needed. But this isn't the only thing that unions do. Unions provide a forum for workers of similar skills, set rules of seniority and advancement, and negotiate their contracts from the point of view of the worker. They also handle discipline issues and take care of people in trouble (illnesses, deaths, etc.). As such, they are often very useful to an employer. I work in a nuclear plant and we are almost completely unionized. I work in management (non-union) and I find the unions to be incredibly helpful, not the least of which is because unions do not tolerate safety issues. The fact that unions will go out of their way to protect their workers from safety issues is more useful to me than I can describe. It is my opinion that if there would have been an effective union on the Deepwater Horizon rig, the management shortcuts wouldn't have been tolerated.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 4 years ago | (#33014608)

set rules of seniority and advancement

Indeed they do.

There's no real reason to improve your skill set in a Union Shop. There's probably a sandbagger with more seniority than you in line before you for a promotion anyway.

Two Things Killing USPS Beside Lack of Mail Volume (2, Interesting)

dammy (131759) | about 4 years ago | (#33014814)

As a former USPS Rural Carrier PFT (Part Time Flex), I can tell you two things that are indeed causing USPS to be highly inefficient. First is the huge number of middle managers that are there to create paperwork to justify their and their superior's jobs. Lets gut middle management that are the bane of reports that are forced on Post Masters and Customer Service Supervisors. Post Master should have complete control over their office, they are the front line managers that need to be empowered and not hobbled management wise. Second is the unions, Rural Carriers have their own, City Carriers have their own, Clerks have their own, so do Maintence, what's left of them that haven't been subcontracted out. I can't remember if the mail handlers have their own or not or apart of the clerks, wouldn't surprise me if they did. There needs to be one union and that's it, not separate unions each with their own contracts that say what can and can not be done.

No, I was not a member of National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, I refused to join when I realized that as a RCA (before I became career as a RC PTF), the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association didn't give a rat's ass about us Rural Carrier Associates (RCAs), we were just a poker chip in their weak ass negotiations with USPS, we got zero health care benefits nor did we get other major perks that the Rural Carriers got. I've never heard of a union not insuring their apprentices receive health care benefits, but that is how they treat their apprentices (RCAs). Even City Carrier union made sure their substitute carriers got insurance and full benefits.

USPS is a mess, it needs radical changes to make it into a effective and money making business. It's losing money because their cash cow, Business Bulk Mail, volume is in the toilet along with the first class mail. It will take congress to get them sorted out and we know how well they are doing with budgets...

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (5, Informative)

spasm (79260) | about 4 years ago | (#33014666)

The contract between USPS and the APWU doesn't say they can "never decrease their workforce" at all.

You may be thinking of the part of the contract which says that employees hired before September 15, 1978 have "lifetime protection against layoff" (Article 6(1)), and that employees who have more than six years service have a more limited set of protections against layoff (Article 6(2)). Everyone else gets sixty days notice (Article 6(B) and 6(C)).

The Joint Contract Interpretation Manual is here [apwu.org] , and took me a whole five seconds to find via google.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014670)

At the most, one of these can be true.

Your argument assumes no Republicans or Libertarians in government. The unions are needed to counteract them.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (2, Funny)

Planesdragon (210349) | about 4 years ago | (#33014908)

And then remove their union contract that states that they can never decrease their workforce, even if they don't need as many workers due to reduced volume.

Better idea: just negotiate this in their next contract. Any union worth its membership dues will recognize the occasionally necessity of layoffs, and be willing to trade a "no layoffs" policy for a fair layoffs policy. (ideally, one that spells out what criteria are used, and places laid off workers in a "hire back" list.)

NY state workers are almost all unionized, and the only reason that we haven't had any layoffs is that Paterson is a short-sighted moron, who made a dumb deal with the unions last year and tried to do something not addressed in the contract this year. (We ARE making ready for layoffs at the end of the year, when Paterson's moronic deal runs out.)

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014998)

Paterson is a short-sighted moron

I thought he was blind.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014118)

Or carriers won't deliver to the countryside...

not actually a monopoly (4, Informative)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 4 years ago | (#33014160)

the artificial monopoly congress created for the USPS making it so they are the only ones that can deliver first-class mail

The post office doesn't actually have such a monopoly. The post office is the only company that can deliver to your mailbox, but you are free to put up a mailbox outside your house for UPS, FedEx, or any other service you want. Other companies can deliver as much mail as they want, they just can't use the USPS mail boxes. Other companies are also free to deliver any amount of mail or packages to your door in any way they want, any time they want.

Re:not actually a monopoly (3, Informative)

Peach Rings (1782482) | about 4 years ago | (#33014194)

That's not true, it's illegal for UPS and FedEx to deliver first class mail (normal priority letters in an envelope). The Postal Inspection Service investigates and aggressively prosecutes companies for sending normal mail through other carriers. I remember some story from awhile back where a big corporation was fined a large sum when the postal service found out that the "high priority mail" they were sending through a carrier was just normal priority.

Re:not actually a monopoly (3, Informative)

crmarvin42 (652893) | about 4 years ago | (#33014252)

I'd like a citation for that. I send mail via FedEx all the time for work. I don't send personal correspondence that way, but that's because the USPS is cheaper for a simple letter than FedEx is (even with the recent stamp hikes) and I'm not usually worried about delivery time. If FedEx became the cheaper way to mail photo's of my daughter to her grandparents, then I'd probaby take that route. Are you saying that it is illegal for FedEx to deliver mail that isn't next day delivery somehow?

Re:not actually a monopoly (3, Informative)

XanC (644172) | about 4 years ago | (#33014282)

According to Wikipedia:

Article I, section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution grants U.S. Congress the power to establish post offices and post roads. The Federal Government has interpreted this clause as granting a de facto Congressional monopoly over the delivery of mail. According to the government, no other system for delivering mail - public or private - can be established absent Congress's consent. Congress has delegated to the Postal Service the power to decide whether others may compete with it, and the Postal Service has carved out an exception to its monopoly for extremely urgent letters.

Re:not actually a monopoly (3, Insightful)

Main Gauche (881147) | about 4 years ago | (#33014548)

Last edited by: "GP, over on Slashdot. Nah-nah, told ya so!".

Re:not actually a monopoly (1)

sir1real (1636849) | about 4 years ago | (#33014632)

It has nothing to do with the Constitution. Congress passed a law back in the mid 1800s which says no one other than the USPS can deliver first class mail for less than 5 dollars a unit. This is what gives the USPS a effective monopoly over the mail.

Re:not actually a monopoly (1)

XanC (644172) | about 4 years ago | (#33014668)

You're right, of course; I guess the key phrase in the Wiki summary is:

"The Federal Government has interpreted this clause as granting a de facto Congressional monopoly over the delivery of mail."

But unfortunately, that interpretation being wrong doesn't change anything.

Re:not actually a monopoly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33015000)

Congress has delegated to the Postal Service the power to decide whether others may compete with it, and the Postal Service has carved out an exception to its monopoly for extremely urgent letters.

So you mean putting a piece in an envelope and having it delivered overnight--like can be done with FedEx--is illegal?

Re:not actually a monopoly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014786)

>the artificial monopoly congress created for the USPS making it so they are the only ones that can deliver first-class mail

The post office doesn't actually have such a monopoly. The post office is the only company that can deliver to your mailbox, but you are free to put up a mailbox outside your house for UPS, FedEx, or any other service you want. Other companies can deliver as much mail as they want, they just can't use the USPS mail boxes. Other companies are also free to deliver any amount of mail or packages to your door in any way they want, any time they want.

It's actually pretty easy to search the US Post Office website. Let's see the first hit for "monopoly" here: http://www.usps.com/communications/newsroom/2008/pr08_106.htm [usps.com]

Obligations of the USO include uniform prices, quality of service, access to services, and six-day delivery to every part of the country. To assure financial support for these obligations, the postal monopoly provides the Postal Service the exclusive right to deliver letters and restricts mailbox access solely for mail. Therefore, the USO and postal monopoly are inextricably linked. The report supports that eliminating or reducing either aspect of the monopoly "would have a devastating impact on the ability ... to provide the affordable universal service that the country values so highly." Relaxing access to the mailbox would also pose security concerns, increase delivery costs, and hurt customer service.

Wait -- fluke! Two years old! Let's check another one (darn, a PDF): http://www.usps.com/postallaw/_pdf/UniversalServiceandPostalMonopolyHistory.pdf [usps.com]

Protecting postal revenue: the origins of the Private Express Statutes
The group of federal laws known collectively as the Private Express Statutes gives the United States Postal Service a monopoly over the carriage of letter-mail. This monopoly predates the United States Postal Service - it predates even the United States. It was carried over from the colonial postal system, established in North America by the British before the American Revolution. But whereas the British Crown Post hoped to profit by its mail monopoly and return its profit to Great Britain, the Founding Fathers hoped to protect postal revenues to fund and expand the mail system, which they deemed as essential to nationhood.

But wait, there is an exception!

In 1979, under pressure from mailers, competitors, and some members of Congress, the Postal Service suspended the prohibition of private delivery of extremely urgent letters. Letters were considered to be extremely urgent if they met strict delivery standards or if their postage cost the greater of either twice the United States Post Office going First-Class or "priority mail" rate or at least three dollars.67 The regulations were also amended to clarify the terms "letter," "packet," "person," and "identical printed letters."

In 1980, the regulations were amended as follows:
--by removing certain restrictions from the existing exemption for matter shipped by a printer to a person using such matter as his letters;
--by further defining "letter," "book" or "catalog" under the existing exemptions, as well as providing an exemption for advertisements accompanying addressed material or periodicals; and,
--by allowing private carriage of letters with prepaid postage other than by means previously established, provided that these alternative means were specified in a written agreement with the Postal Service.

The last major change came on September 19, 1986, when, at the urging of American businesses and at the direct request of President Ronald Reagan, the Postal Service exempted international remailing from the postal monopoly. The new rule allowed "the uninterrupted carriage of letters from a point within the United States to a foreign country for deposit in its domestic or international mails for delivery to an ultimate destination outside the United States." In so doing, the Postal Service acknowledged that not only did international remailing save American businesses time and money in getting documents overseas, but that without such savings some businesses might not be able to compete in foreign markets.

So if you have an extremely urgent letter that you are willing to spend twice as much on, or you are mailing overseas, the USPO has no monopoly at all! (For sufficiently large values of "none," that is.)

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (5, Informative)

2Y9D57 (988210) | about 4 years ago | (#33014172)

The monopoly has been removed here in the Netherlands, and the old monopolist -- now owned by TNT -- is going broke. States granted a monopoly on mail delivery in return for a commitment to deliver to every address -- the private companies only want the easy work, delivering in towns and cities. Once the former monopolist goes broke, mail delivery in rural areas will stop forever. To prevent this from happening, the Dutch government will eventually have to legislate -- tinkering with the business models of the competitors -- or accept that if you live in a village or on a farm, you have to drive to the nearest town to pick up your mail.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (5, Interesting)

PrimaryConsult (1546585) | about 4 years ago | (#33014216)

A lot of that "inefficiency" is that mailing a letter from a rural village in the south to a similar village in Alaska costs the same (and has roughly the same quality of service) as mailing a letter from one side of a major city to the other. If you break up the monopoly and allow USPS to exit markets it finds unprofitable, a whole lot of places will stop getting mail. If you break up the monopoly but do not allow USPS to exit markets, then their revenue will reduce even further as the popular ones are taken by competitors.

Also as far as USPS is concerned, a county made up mostly of farms that sees 15 pieces of legitimate mail a month is not worth their time. But when those 15 pieces of legitimate mail are vital to our food supply...

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (2)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 4 years ago | (#33014520)

Why should city dwellers have to pay more for their mail delivery in order to subsidize the rural dwellers? By the same token should those of us who live near a major hub airport pay more for flights so that those who need to take a connecting flight don't need to pay any more for their travel than we do? How about this: regulate private mail delivery companies so they have to deliver to everybody and to charge different rates according to the true cost, but have them charge the difference to the government. That way at least the subsidy will be clear, not obfuscated like it is now.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (3, Insightful)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 4 years ago | (#33014648)

Why should city dwellers have to pay more for their mail delivery in order to subsidize the rural dwellers?

As the GP posted:

Also as far as USPS is concerned, a county made up mostly of farms that sees 15 pieces of legitimate mail a month is not worth their time. But when those 15 pieces of legitimate mail are vital to our food supply..

Maybe you can grow enough food for the people living in your highrise apartment building up on the roof. Good luck. Send us a postcard telling us how it went. Ooops...

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (3, Insightful)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | about 4 years ago | (#33014768)

Because you live in a nation-state where everyone gets access to government services equally.

Lets take your argument to services other than mail

Why should people from states not attacked on 9/11 fight in Afghanistan? Why should states without military bases get defended by the United States military?

Why should tax money from the wealthy go to the poor?

yes it's not fair (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014968)

But I don't give a shit because it's only 40 cents and don't use it a lot. Why complain about stupid shit? USPS works fine.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (1)

SagSaw (219314) | about 4 years ago | (#33014736)

Also as far as USPS is concerned, a county made up mostly of farms that sees 15 pieces of legitimate mail a month is not worth their time. But when those 15 pieces of legitimate mail are vital to our food supply...

So why not make those farmers in the middle of nowhere pay for the costs of delivering their mail (and of providing other government services to isolated areas)? If, without the various subsidies, they can no longer afford to farm that land, we should encourage them to relocate and farm other land where government services can be more easily provided. It might be better to pay the farmers' costs to relocate to a place where they can farm more efficiently than to continue subsidize their costs to run a farm in the middle of nowhere.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (1)

perpetual pessimist (1245416) | about 4 years ago | (#33014896)

Do you really want pig farms to move in next to you? How about a slaughterhouse?

Farming isn't all beautiful waves of grain and rolling meadows with horses frolicking. Some things need to be out in the middle of nowhere. But those places also need to be connected to the rest of the country -- that is, after all, where the food comes from.

Vegetarianism to ease the USPS's job (1)

tepples (727027) | about 4 years ago | (#33014974)

Do you really want pig farms to move in next to you? How about a slaughterhouse?

Thank you for explaining why zoning laws exist. But I imagine that if we want to make a large-scale switch from farming far from cities to urban gardening in order to make the job of the USPS easier, this would have to go hand in hand with more vegetarianism.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 4 years ago | (#33014222)

OK, in general I am against artificial monopolies, but you can't just say, 'get rid of the monopoly and it will fix everything.' That is a fantasy.

In the first place, you have to demonstrate that there are massive inefficiencies that will make a difference. Then you have to demonstrate that getting rid of those inefficiencies will somehow make a difference. I mean, do you really think that if a first-class stamp costs 10 cents less, or if a letter arrives 10 hours sooner it will somehow make people want to send letters? Physical mail will never compete with email for speed or cost; this isn't a problem of monopolies or inefficiencies but a matter of physics.

Monopolies are bad, sure, but don't be braindead about it, think sometimes!

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (5, Informative)

Kojiro Ganryu Sasaki (895364) | about 4 years ago | (#33014276)

Exactly this happened in Sweden.

The postal service had a monopoly on delivering mail across all of Sweden. The postal service was regulated by law to cover as much of the country as possible.

Then the monopoly law was removed, opening up for City Mail. City Mail took over the profitable city areas while completely ignoring the unprofitable countryside. The postal service is now having extreme difficulties to maintain itself, because it is suffering from competition within the only profitable districts. This leads to lack of efficiency and inhumane policies at the postal service workplaces thanks to regulations from management. (I should know, I have worked there)

Competition doesn't lead to efficiency if the competition isn't equal, and the competition isn't equal because the postal office still has to serve the countryside. You could say that the regulation is the fault of the government, but the fucking POINT of the postal service is to serve mail everywhere. If that regulation is removed then the countryside will no longer get any mail as the postal service and city mail will both compete within the profitable areas.

The only other possibility is that prices in the countryside explode to ridiculous levels to compensate for the lack of profit in these areas.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (1)

hitmark (640295) | about 4 years ago | (#33014346)

seen something similar in norway as well. Here the post offices outside of cities are basically gone, replaced with some kind of partnership with a local store or gas station (tho funny enough, that have lead to better opening hours, as the post offices used to maintain normal office ours, not store hours).

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014766)

As I assume you know based on your name, complete postal privatization has occurred in Japan, and it's been extremely successful. (Although it is still well-regulated.)

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (1)

zoomshorts (137587) | about 4 years ago | (#33014522)

Cure the ills of the Nation, save money out the
Wazoo! Seem like a pipe dream?

Picture this, a population of citizens, some of
whom cannot participate in Government Service
because LIFERS are already employed in those
positions.

Every person has the RIGHT to Government Service
Jobs, yet most are blocked due to someone already
having a Government Service job that they could
fill.

Here is the fix : Allow only 5 years of Government
Service ! One year for training and 4 years on the
job. Everyone is eligible, though not all will be
qualified. No 20 or 30 year employees!!! This would
eliminate the Retirement benefits, realizing a HUGE
cost savings immediately. Keep the medical benefits
the same - while employed. No Double Dipping! One
term in Government Service only.

Try not to tell me about all the ancillary crap
people think about why ideas cannot work. Think
about fairness. Does the Constitution guarantee
jobs? No, not only no, but HELL NO.It just dictated
post office and post roads.

This same process should apply to the Post Office.
Why is the solution so hard to see? Are these dead
weights entitled to long term employment at our
expense? Nope. Huge retirement benefits? Nope.

Wake up and smell the dog doo on your shoes!

You KNOW Karma is overrated, usually by people who
fail to understand Eastern philosophy.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014526)

FedEx, UPS, or any other carrier should only be allowed to deliver first class mail if they will deliver it to every address in the United States every day Monday through Saturday. Otherwise, fuck them. If you don't put those conditions on it you'll start to find that people in rural areas are cut off from mail service altogether.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014800)

This would result in either no service or very expensive service for rural areas.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014926)

Abolish 2nd-class mail. If it isn't worth at least $0.44 to get it to me, I don't want it.

Re:Remove the artificial monopoly (2, Insightful)

drsquare (530038) | about 4 years ago | (#33014936)

Actually, the increased competition will remove economies of scale, making it more expensive and less efficient. Imagine you have a street with twenty houses. As it stands, one postman walks up and delivers the mail to all twenty houses. Now imagine there are four competing companies. Four vans drive up, four postmen get out with a bag that's only a quarter full, they all walk up the street, each delivering to five houses.

You've taken four times as many man hours, and four times the transport infrastructure to deliver the same amount of mail. How does this increase efficiency and reduce costs?

Trying to destroy one of their best traits... (4, Interesting)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 4 years ago | (#33014136)

The post office is again talking about canceling Saturday delivery. To me, that is one of the best things they have going for them. Sure, UPS and FedEx will delivery on Saturdays, but for an additional cost. USPS delivers Saturday for the same cost as any other day of the week. Take no-extra-charge Saturday delivery and better rates for many pertinent deliveries than UPS or FedEx and frankly I'm not sure why more people don't ship through them.

But if they cancel Saturdays then they aren't as advantageous.

Re:Trying to destroy one of their best traits... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014162)

Saturday Delivery is only meaningful to people that work Monday through Friday and are impatient about getting their toys delivered to them quick and on their day off.

Re:Trying to destroy one of their best traits... (3, Insightful)

nlawalker (804108) | about 4 years ago | (#33014544)

That would be... a lot of people.

Re:Trying to destroy one of their best traits... (1)

chowdahhead (1618447) | about 4 years ago | (#33014240)

If the USPS were a publicly held company, this would have happened a long time ago. They also probably would have diversified into digital services as well.

Re:Trying to destroy one of their best traits... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014504)

You guys have Saturday service? You're kidding. Canada Post [wikipedia.org] dropped that ages ago. They also dropped "to-the-door" service in areas of new construction and expect you to go down the street to "super mailboxes" and pick it up there instead, and the delivery prices continue to rise. Even though the changes have been pretty drastic since they converted it from a government department to a semi-independent "crown corporation" back in the 1980s, and people grumble about the service all the time, it does have the advantage of running a slight net income every year for the last 15 [canadapost.ca] , and (gasp) paying taxes on the profit rather than the constant deficits it used to have.

Of course, we're all socialists up here and the geography is different, so I don't expect something like that would ever work in the USA.

Re:Trying to destroy one of their best traits... (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | about 4 years ago | (#33014802)

The US has alot of wide open spaces like Canada, but our population isn't bunched up as much along one main axis.

Driving across western Canada last fall (Vancouver to Alaska) I was struck by how poor the roads are in Canada, even Highway 1 compared to the US.

Get farther up in to BC, and they get really poor, I'd say the roads around Prince George, Dawson Creek or Fort St John were about the same quality as the rural highways across South Dakota (Highway 63 or 212)

City dwellers and suburbanites might not... (4, Interesting)

Nutria (679911) | about 4 years ago | (#33014150)

realize this, but there's still a whole lot of people who live out in the country and small rural towns where the population density isn't high enough for UPS, FedEx and broadband to be profitable enough to serve these citizens.

Re:City dwellers and suburbanites might not... (4, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 4 years ago | (#33014362)

realize this, but there's still a whole lot of people who live out in the country and small rural towns where the population density isn't high enough for UPS, FedEx and broadband to be profitable enough to serve these citizens.

True enough, but then you have to frame the argument as a social issue. Is it a desirable social end for people in rural areas to have services that cannot be developed economically by the 'regular' market? Traditionally (pretty much since the inception of the US) it was felt that subsidizing mail to everyone was worth the cost as it help expand the country and thus the market. In the 1930's the rural electrification [feri.org] expanded AC power to the hinterlands, again as an effort to improve the economy of these areas (and as part of the New Deal).

So the argument really boils down to whether or not it is worth it in a societal sense to subsidize postal service for rural populations. Of course, then you get to the literally hundreds of cross subsidies that the US (and likely every other government) gives for everything from peanuts to gasoline.

Then my eyes glaze over and my head asplode.

Re:City dwellers and suburbanites might not... (1)

tronbradia (961235) | about 4 years ago | (#33014748)

City dwellers and suburbanites might not realize this, but there's still a whole lot of people who live out in the country and small rural towns where the population density isn't high enough for UPS, FedEx and broadband to be profitable enough to serve these citizens.

Small rural towns could just contract out to Fedex to make deliveries, I'm sure there's a price they would accept to do it. We live in a capitalist society and that generally means that enough money will buy anything. I'm sure private industry could serve small towns more effectively and at lower expense than a bureaucratic dinosaur like the USPS can, and we as a country are already paying USPS to do it. So it's not really a matter of small towns not being able to get service. It's a matter of small towns wanting the rest of the country to pay for that service.

And as someone who lives in the 'rest of the country', I don't really see why, if small towns want something, they shouldn't have to pay for it. (Disclaimer, I have no use for first class mail and don't even want to subsidize my own, much less anybody else's).

Re:City dwellers and suburbanites might not... (3, Insightful)

SvnLyrBrto (62138) | about 4 years ago | (#33014776)

To my mind, that's just the trade-off you get in exchange for the advantages of living out in the middle of nowhere...

You get things like a larger house on a much larger lot, easy access to lakes, forests or whatever, peace and quiet, a lower crime rate, cleaner air, less traffic, and so on. I get broadband, culture, good restaurants, a nightlife, public transit, and other such services.

Re:City dwellers and suburbanites might not... (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | about 4 years ago | (#33014874)

I've never had UPS or FedEx say they can't deliver a package. One thing they do is hand it off to their competitor, that might be cheaper to do than to handle the package themselves. They also trade packages when one or the other has a glut somewhere, I guess they probably find it cheaper to trade services than to build excess capacity to handle the busy times.

Another thing I've seen them do is charge a slightly higher fee for delivery to remote destinations, the worst of which that I've found was maybe $3 a package, not too bad in my opinion.

Where USPS falls short (2, Insightful)

kimvette (919543) | about 4 years ago | (#33014186)

Okay, here is where USPS falls short compared to FedEx and UPS:

* ridiculous restrictions on what can be shipped
* Severely under-staffed at practically every location
* Inflexible pickup policies
* Bankers' hours
* Poor package tracking (often won't indicate an item has shipped until days after it arrived at destination)
* No guarantees. "Priority" shipping "may be 2-3 days" but then again it might take a week

If I call FedEx I can get a small shipment picked up usually within an hour, often as late as 6:30 or 7. A large shipment is a little different but even if I need to ship half a ton or a ton worth of goods, I can get a pickup the same day.

UPS is a little less flexible.

I used to have a UPS vs. FedEx comparison on my web site. It went something like this:

FedEx
  * if the driver bothers to find you, the package will be delivered in one piece
  * If they bother to find you, the package will arrive on time
  * Your package will be handled carefully
  * You deliveryperson is probably an ex con
  * Your FedEx air driver can't pick up ground packages

UPS
  * The driver will always find you, but the package might be beat up
  * Your package might sit at the local UPS hub or UPS center a day or two before going out for delivery
  * Your package will have fallen off a conveyor belt 30' onto the concrete floor because UPS insists on running 60,000-120,000 packages over four hours through a conveyor system designed to handle maybe 30,000 packages over four hours
  * your deliveryperson is probably an ex con
  * Your UPS ground or UPS air driver can pick up either air or ground packages

UPS used to be excellent - going public has really hurt them a lot. It seemed middle management cared a lot more when they were owner-operated so their net wealth had a lot more to do with how they performed than what their perceived market value is. Now that market cap drives managements' personal profits, they have little regard for customer service.

But honestly, I don't expect the USPS can ever do any better than either of them. USPS already does a craptacular job that makes either UPS or FedEx look good.

Re:Where USPS falls short (2, Informative)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 4 years ago | (#33014292)

Okay I don't know where you do your shipping but we don't have any of the problems you seem to have with UPS.
We have had the same driver for years. Very nice gentleman and I doubt he is an ex-con.
We ship a LOT.
And have not had many damaged packages at all.

We are using the US postal service more now because they are cheaper and the service has been okay.
If it isn't high priority it goes USPS.

Address people, not houses (0, Redundant)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 4 years ago | (#33014196)

The thing that I really hate about traditional mail is that it goes to my house, not to me. When I move house, I have to (pay to) set up a redirection and then stuff where people got the address slightly wrong needs forwarding manually. Big companies can set up a P/O Box that forwards to their physical location. Why not to this for everyone? In the UK, the post code and house name or number are enough to uniquely identify every house in the country. Why not make the system identify people by a short code (or something like a domain name) instead? That way, when I move house, I don't need to tell people my new address unless they are actually visiting me - people who are just writing to me can keep using the old address.

Re:Address people, not houses (1)

Kojiro Ganryu Sasaki (895364) | about 4 years ago | (#33014310)

You would have to tell them that you moved in order for this system to work, though.

Re:Address people, not houses (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | about 4 years ago | (#33014820)

Pay? It's a buck to do it online with the USPS.

Free in the Post Office.

Privatize (2, Insightful)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 4 years ago | (#33014208)

That at least will hopefully improve the efficiency though it won't fix the underlying problem which is that the snail mail is dying. Btw, a question. did anybody else notice the service quality dropping recently. I've had more of my mail not delivered (when I know it was sent) and other people's mail mistakenly delivered to my mailbox in the last year than in my entire life. Could be just my mailman I guess.

Privatize-Spamersize. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014332)

That at least will hopefully improve the efficiency though it won't fix the underlying problem which is that the snail mail is dying.

You better hope that bulk mail doesn't die, or transmitting that electronically will increase the amount of spam people get.

Re:Privatize (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014450)

It's funny that you mention this. About a week ago, I started receiving random pieces of mail for neighbors just one or two houses down the street.

Re:Privatize (1)

couchslug (175151) | about 4 years ago | (#33014480)

This is where a national broadband investment would pay off. When we can get rid of mail for communication, that will slash the amount of time and energy involved in making and transporting dead trees.

radical changes (3, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | about 4 years ago | (#33014220)

I translate that into 'internet email tax' or 'online bill pay tax'.

Re:radical changes (1)

Zekolas (1029166) | about 4 years ago | (#33014274)

How exactly could they "Tax" email? Who would pay the tax, the person sending or receiving? Also how would they, you do not need to enter in a SS#/credit card #, street address for an email account. Also what about email accounts that are operated outside the US? What would stop every one signing up for a Canadian email account that is not taxed? The fact is there is NO way anyone could tax email, and if any one thinks the US government can, well they really do not understand how the internet actually works.

Re:radical changes (2, Insightful)

XanC (644172) | about 4 years ago | (#33014316)

Easy, you just mandate an extra $5/month charge to every ISP bill. I'm sure the politicians believe it's their right to do so.

Re:radical changes (1)

Zekolas (1029166) | about 4 years ago | (#33014404)

Good point, this would be the only way they could do this, but it would not be so much of an email tax as a Internet tax.

Re:radical changes (1)

XanC (644172) | about 4 years ago | (#33014420)

Taxing too much has never stopped them before. :-)

Don't kill the USPS! (5, Insightful)

countertrolling (1585477) | about 4 years ago | (#33014228)

Some of us need an alternative to PayPal... Online only works for those who carry the mark of the beast (have a bank, or PayPal account, or a credit card)

Re:Don't kill the USPS! (1)

couchslug (175151) | about 4 years ago | (#33014578)

Buy a pay-as-you-go credit card and use that. Postage is high enough you'll likely save money.

Re:Don't kill the USPS! (1)

rbphilip (530254) | about 4 years ago | (#33014788)

who doesn't have a bank account or a credit card?

Deficits? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014320)

I guess you could claim that decreased usage in a country of the size of the US makes it unprofitable, but in truth it just means that in the worst case they could revert to the system they had in 1980 or 1970 when they were doing fine with less users. So why is there a problem?

USPS (1)

codepunk (167897) | about 4 years ago | (#33014328)

USPS will never recover and or be profitable, their labor and benefits costs are way too high.

Re:USPS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014384)

We think their business model is fine and will lead to prosperity.

Sincerely,

US Auto Makers

Re:USPS (2, Interesting)

value_added (719364) | about 4 years ago | (#33014658)

USPS will never recover and or be profitable, their labor and benefits costs are way too high.

Should we care about profitability and labour/benefit costs?

Seems to me if someone has a good job with real job security and some kind of pension thrown into the bargain, we should pause for a moment and realise that most of us will never haver anything like it, and we should be envious.

Schoolteachers, firefighters, postmen, these are the kinds of people that represent the middle class (or what's left of it). Personally, I don't give a damn if the departments they fall under aren't run as efficiently as possible, just so as long as they meet a "mostly works" criteria.

Hybrid mail? (1)

MelodicMotives (724089) | about 4 years ago | (#33014354)

Other countries have been trialing technology that allows incoming mail to be scanned and transmitted electronically to the recipient. This seems like a great area for USPS to move towards, and would help them taper off residential delivery as the number of people who still demand dead trees in their mailbox dwindles.

Re:Hybrid mail? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014440)

mod parent up!

Re:Hybrid mail? (1)

socsoc (1116769) | about 4 years ago | (#33014616)

Or the sending party could just deliver it to you electronically, saving a lot of extra work and costs from initially mailing it to a third party to digitize.

Re:Hybrid mail? (1)

MelodicMotives (724089) | about 4 years ago | (#33014698)

If the sending party is grandma, or perhaps they are located in a rural part of the country, then they probably aren't capable of doing that at the moment.

Just now?!? (0, Redundant)

alangerow (610060) | about 4 years ago | (#33014376)

Company realizes it needs to think about the future and plan for it. News at 11.

Time for the USPS to go away (1)

Cthobs (1608055) | about 4 years ago | (#33014390)

Sell it to FedEx or UPS. Allow them to cut letter deliveries to MWF. Get rid of the Postal Inspectors. Get rid of the bloated, over paid bureaucracy.

Competitiveness (1)

Manos_Of_Fate (1092793) | about 4 years ago | (#33014408)

USPS also needs to work on their shipping prices. My girlfriend shipped a small (~2 lb) package recently, and USPS grounds would have cost her $20. OnTrac was $10 for next day, and it arrived at 10:30 in the morning. Charging more money for things is not necessarily a good way to make more money off of them.

Re:Competitiveness (1)

Nexus7 (2919) | about 4 years ago | (#33014710)

Really?

'Cause a medium flat rate box (11" x 8-1/2" x 5-1/2") shipped from Illinois to Texas (I figured this wold be an average distance) is $10.70 shipped Priority Mail.

Legal Protection (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014426)

UPS/FedEx can open your mail pretty much on a whim. The USPS needs a warrant.

junk mail (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014482)

Part of the problem for me is junk mail. I don't look forward to getting the mail these days because a very small chunk of the pile makes me happy. Junk mail doesn't affect real mail's credibility, but it does degrade the "user-experience" of First Class mail. The USPS is about the least fun way to communicate these days. It's no fun to send anything more complicated than a simple pre-stamped envelope. On the receiving end, the USPS themselves gave away the charm that "getting the mail" held when they decided it was good business to deliver things that say "current resident" or (like the wad of newsprint coupons) don't even have my address on it at all. Eventually, we end up finding more fun ways to communicate personally and, when we do, we start doing all of our business communications that way too.

Re:junk mail (1)

Blink Tag (944716) | about 4 years ago | (#33014694)

I'm glad I'm not the only person thinking along these lines.

One solution? Raise the rates for third-class/bulk mail/junk mail (and if you want to be really aggressive, political flyers).

Compete with UPS and Fedex? Huh? (1)

pease1 (134187) | about 4 years ago | (#33014498)

This week I needed to get a package to a friend from one coast to the other in two days with the delivery end being a pretty remote location in the western US. Experience in the past had suggested USPS would say two days, but it would really take three to four. Last year, their "tracking" system showed the package had been dropped off and offered no updates until it was delivered... and that wasn't updated for several hours after delivery.

This year, Fedex was really two days and tracking was updated at least every 8 hours right down to it was out on the truck for local delivery.

I fully expect any "reform" of USPS will be nothing more than restrictions on the private sector who completes against it.

Postman (1)

Dusty101 (765661) | about 4 years ago | (#33014510)

Build a Robot Kevin Costner?

USPS isn't in as bad a state as you might think (2, Interesting)

GKThursday (952030) | about 4 years ago | (#33014514)

The thing is that the USPS wouldn't been doing as bad if congress wasn't constantly meddling.
They set up "retirement health benefits pre-funding" at approx $5.5 billion a year. Now pre-funding retirement benefits is a good idea, but that's not what this money is used for. That $5.5 billion goes into the federal coffers. This is after the USPS was forced to overfund their previous pension by $75 billion.
USPS would have been profitable in 3 of the last 4 years without the pre-funding requirement.
I work as a "Postal liaison" for a commercial printer. Which pretty much means I have to watch every minute detail of the USPS in the news. I think they are headed for a hard fall, but not because their business model is broken, but because of the meddling of 536 "CEOs".

Stop Trying to Subsidize Junk Mail (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014540)

If the USPS raised rates on advertising and other junk mail, rather than using first class mail rates to subsidize the junk mailers, they would start doing better financially.

As far as the low-grade 'let's privatize everything' morons, well, we're on the edge of a second depression - and idiots like you are the reason we are here. The Post Office exists to serve a vital public function, or at least it did before the Republileeches perverted it into a semi-private corporation - presumably with the intent of destroying it, and replacing it with private couriers or some other sort of cutting-edge stupidity from the late 1600's. Hell, I'm surprised they aren't still trying to burn 'witches.'

The USPS should be re-nationalized, and fixed - not destroyed, just so a group of societal parasites can leech a profit out of everyone else.

Re:Stop Trying to Subsidize Junk Mail (1)

GKThursday (952030) | about 4 years ago | (#33014760)

You wouldn't like the cost of FCM without Standard mail. Automation of the mail is the reason you can send a one ounce letter from California to Maine for $0.44. Automation requires a large volume of mail to be economically feasible.
Also, its not like mailers get a subsidy just because they are nice people. They clean the addresses, update for moves, pre-sort the mail to USPS specs, and put a barcode on so the mail can skip several steps. The subsidy is for this work, it's called "work-sharing."
Raising the rates on advertising mail always drives volume away, and at this point in time, the USPS needs every scrap of volume it can get.
As for the semi-privatization, that was a stupid idea. The USPS needs freedom to react, and 536 "CEOs" is no way to get that freedom. Congress is all about the USPS saving itself, but won't let it close a Post Office that serves 50 people and is less than a mile from anther Post Office. And at the same time Congress steals $5.5 billion a year to fund deficit spending. If any private company embezzled that amount the executives would be behind bars.

What they need to do is what we are missing. (1)

techhead79 (1517299) | about 4 years ago | (#33014594)

They should provide a secure digital communication system, encryption and the rule of law stating the same as with snail mail. The government can't read it without warrant.

I know you're all thinking this is retarded and everything but just hear me out for a second.

Legal documents and countless other non physical items still are transferred through the post office. I should be able to send a message to the post office in a method that verifies my identity for the receiver. I shouldn't have to sign things by hand there should be a method to digitally sign everything with a specific time stamp using a time based encryption algo. GPG should be adopted and new features should be included to allow public keys/certificates private keys to be controlled by the sender and provided by the post office.

If I don't own a computer I should still be able to go into a post office with letter in hand. That letter should be scanned into the system with my identity verified at the post office either with biometrics or other means. The letter should be encrypted using my key system. The law should protect the sender from what technology can not...someone opening up the envelope to read what it says before sending it forward. How much mail would this reduce or remove? Once the receiving Post office gets the digital package if the receiver owns a computer it is available to them by the post office verifying by IP or pushing it out to the system for delivery. If the receiver does not own a computer it should be printed off or alternatively provided in a portable digital transfer by simply hooking up your USB key at a local Post Office.

Spam is mute when you know the senders identity 100%. Even if it wasn't you can follow systems out there now that will not accept a digital package until the receiver accepts it from the user (return to sender).

There is no reason for anyone to live with spam today and there is no reason to fear the government if laws protect the citizens from corruption of our Rights. The USPO has an opportunity here to make huge changes...in addition to funding the broadband in every home ideal. That would be looking forward.

Simply raise the rates... (1)

Digital_Mercenary (136288) | about 4 years ago | (#33014676)

Simply raise the rates to be more in-line with the costs of doing business. It's an expensive operation to run that we all benefit from so charge accordingly.

-DML

The more things change... (1)

xednieht (1117791) | about 4 years ago | (#33014696)

The more they stay the same.

USPS's future lies in things that need to be delivered physically: shoes, computers and other objects, and the USPS has assets that could let it take on UPS and FedEx.

I could not disagree more. USPS's future lies in mail, e-mail to be more specific, they just need to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done. It's astounding that the USPS doesn't see the opportunity that is right in front of their eyes.

Unlike you all, I LOVE the USPS... (2, Interesting)

afabbro (33948) | about 4 years ago | (#33014730)

...and am a very heavy user, for an individual. I mail 6-8 letters/postcards/packages a day, none of which is ebay or anything like that. That's what you get from having friends all over the place, Postcrossing [postcrossing.com] , etc.

I like my postman, and I like the fact that in Portland I am usually near a post office or postbox. I have many fond memories of going to the PO when I was a kid, I used to collect stamps, etc. However...

  • The USPS needs to get away from banker's hours. Hell, banks need to get away from banker's hours! We all work 9-5. The airport office here is open until 10pm (yes, counter service at USPS at 10pm!), but that is a very rare post office. And you have to drive to the airport which is a pretty good drive for me even though I live near the airport.
  • I am continuously offended by the asinine idiocy of "you must take all packages weighing 16 oz or more to the counter". This is supposedly a Unibomber-era security regulation but in reality it's a way for the union to keep window staff high.

The real problem with USPS is the union. High, inflexible labor costs. No ability to terminate people without an Act of Congress, no ability to do layoffs, etc. By all accounts (some of them quite entertaining [wikipedia.org] ), the Post Office is an awful place to work: management that's rotted in place, hip-deep paperwork and bureaucracy, bitter people who do the barest minimum to avoid being fired, no incentives to do better, etc.

Pricing cuts both ways (3, Insightful)

davmoo (63521) | about 4 years ago | (#33014740)

A lot of people here are whining that the post office charges too much. So why don't you call UPS or Fed Ex and see if they'll ship a 1 pound package from Supai, Arizona 86435 to Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799 for the same $4.95 that the USPS will charge for flat rate Priority Mail.

And don't even get me started on first class mail. Even if they were allowed to carry it, I'd be willing to bet money that UPS or Fed Ex would laugh in my face if I expected them to deliver a letter just from one side of town to the other for 44 cents.

For some mail and packages, yes, UPS and Fed Ex can do it cheaper. But for *many* places and types of mail, USPS is a freaking bargain (and that's why it doesn't make money).

Self-Sufficient Postal Service (2, Informative)

KnightMareInc (978421) | about 4 years ago | (#33014758)

Alot of people like to conveniently forget that prior to the economic collapse of the world's economy the USPS was not only sulf-sufficient but kept prices crazy low without taking tax payer dollars. http://www.nalc.org/postal/perform/selfsufficient.html#selfsufficient [nalc.org] http://www.usps.com/communications/newsroom/postalfacts.htm [usps.com]

I'm actually surprised first class mail isn't $1 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33014932)

I'm actually surprised that first class mail isn't $1 for a letter yet.

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