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Wave Goodbye To Next-Day Mail

Regular next-day delivery of the mail has been a part of urban life in the English-speaking world for the last 200 years.  No more in the US, apparently; crushed under huge pension burdens, overstaffing, poor business decisions, senseless congressional mandates and competition like email and text messaging, the USPS is giving up overnight first-class mail. As the AP reports:

Facing bankruptcy, the U.S. Postal Service is pushing ahead with unprecedented cuts to first-class mail next spring that will slow delivery and, for the first time in 40 years, eliminate the chance for stamped letters to arrive the next day.

The estimated $3 billion in reductions, to be announced in broader detail on Monday, are part of a wide-ranging effort by the cash-strapped Postal Service to quickly trim costs, seeing no immediate help from Congress.

This is pathetic, really. The Victorians were able to handle next-day mail without any kind of automation at all — and for one penny a stamp. Even in my childhood, a first-class letter cost three cents to mail, a postcard two cents. Many places had two mail deliveries a day. Rising costs and declining service have been the hallmark of the USPS for a very long time now. Unless something changes quickly, it is death spiral time.

The death of the USPS, tragic though it would be for employees, is not the worst that could happen, though, given e-alternatives. Americans will be able to communicate with each other with or without the first class mail.  But anything organized by Benjamin Franklin deserves our respect.

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  • Splashman

    Ben didn’t organize the current USPS. If he were alive, he’d have nothing for contempt for what it has become.

    USPS has all the hallmarks of a failure: government agency, heavily subsidized yet competing with private enterprise, and unionized. The triple crown of FAIL.

  • Luke Lea

    “This is pathetic, really. The Victorians were able to handle next-day mail without any kind of automation at all — and for one penny a stamp. Even in my childhood, a first-class letter cost three cents to mail, a postcard two cents.”

    Let’s see, 3 cents corrected for inflation since 1950 comes to . . . 28 cents. Vs. 44 cents today — which subsidizes many times that amout of junk mail, magazines, etc. Does UPS do junk mail?

    As for Victorian England, that was mostly and upper and upper-middle-class thing, 5 times a day, hand delivery. Was it subsidized the crown? Who paid? How much?

    There is much to criticize with any public bureacracy and many private ones as well, but I think the US Postal service does a pretty good job, at least in my experience. Polite, efficient, on time — but maybe that’s just here in Chattanooga. What’s with NYC?

  • Marc

    IIRC, the purpose of the USPS is to pay salaries and benefits to mail carriers. Any actual mail delivery is incidental. I suspect that where the USPS leads, many local police/fire/public employees will follow, cutting back current services but protecting the almighty pensions.

  • Thrasymachus

    Reading George Orwell’s letters, I found he was in the habit of making appointments two days in advance by letter. England obviously had excellent postal service then, as he was living in a small town much of this time. But, that was then and there, this is now and here.

  • dave.s.

    From what I have read, the choice for ‘slowing’ rather than for (my fave) every-other-day delivery is due to the union contracts. This seems daft to me, and a recipe for people turning away from the Post Office altogether.

  • dearieme

    Pah that’s nothing. Where we live the Royal Mail has stopped the pre-breakfast delivery, stopped Sunday collections, made the last collection on weekdays earlier (6:15 pm at our nearest pillar box – bloody outrage!) and threatens to stop Saturday deliveries. No doubt it’ll stop Saturday collections too.
    At least they still deliver into our letter box.

  • Kenny

    “The death of the USPS, tragic though it would be for employees, is not the worst that could happen,”

    What’s tragic about it? The USPS employees are over compensated given their marginal skills and they are grossly overstaffed.

    It’s time the gravy train came to an end.

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    I still have a letter written by my father in 1954. We lived in a small town outside New Haven and he was in Washington on Navy business, and the letter was very brief: “Home tomorrow, meet me at the 12:30 train.”

    It was postmarked at 2 PM, and my father was absolutely confident my mother would receive it in the morning mail delivery. Three cents, reckoned in today’s money about 24 cents.

    Apparently the extra 20 cents we pay for a 44-cent stamp is the charge to store our letters somewhere for a week before delivering them.

  • Rick Owen

    What is really sad is the mindset that pushes them to make service worse, thereby driving away even more customers. Netflix is not going to say “Well, our customers will understand.” They will find a way to get DVDs to their customers faster. Oh wait. Netflix. Well let me think of a different example.

  • Jbird

    A decade ago I worked 4 summers with the USPS to put myself through college. It has been my only experience working in a union shop and I had never and have never since worked anywhere that was so divisive.

    I loved delivering mail, being outside all day, no one to bother me. But even to my 19 year-old eyes, the place was an obvious basket case. The workers hated management, the management didn’t trust the workers. The place had byzantine overtime rules and because it was difficult to fire lazy workers who followed all the work-rules, good workers would get fired for even minor infractions. I would finish my route 3 hours early, but I couldn’t go straight back to the office to get more mail because it was bad form for a fill-in like me to “run” the regular guy’s route like that, because then management might expect him (or her) to do it as fast as I did. So, I’d go home for a couple hours or buy a magazine and just sit on the side of the road. No one seemed to want to be there. Hard work wasn’t what got you ahead there, it was simply seniority. It’s no wonder they are in trouble now.

  • Andrew

    Jbird, I suspect it is the same today. When I’ve worked from home, been home sick, etc, with one or two exceptions a USPS truck parks in the shade in front of my house, and the driver takes a nap. Once or twice, OK, but regularly? Weeks when we’re keeping my in-laws dogs and I have to run home in the afternoon to let them out, I’ll see him napping five days in a row at 1:30pm.

  • Mike M.

    The inevitable decline of the hopelessly outdated USPS has been a long time in the making. Cliff Clavin on “Cheers” and Newman on “Seinfeld” were pathetic figures of comedic ridicule years ago with good reason.

    The episode where Kramer gets personally threatened by the Postmaster-General himself is one of the all time greats.

  • Walter Sobchak

    I have always liked Dave S.’s idea. Mail every other day. East side of the street on M,W,F and west side on T,Th,S. Switch every time there is a Monday Holiday.

  • MJB

    I like to fill y’all in on some history. It wasn’t always so that the USPS had a “pathetic” reputation.
    Back in the mid fifties I worked as a temporary postal carrier during my high school Christmas break. In those days the Postmaster was a political appointee and there were jokes; nevertheless, the staff for the most part was appreciated by the public.
    What happened would be a story worth reading.

  • John Burke

    USPS had next day delivery of first class letters? Who knew? The POs where I have lived for 30 years must never have gotten the memo. Must have been stuck in the mail or something.

    I must say that, setting aside union contracts as an issue (UPS employees are unionized also, and they can strike), cancelling next day delivery or Saturday delivery is not where anyone with an IQ of 10 would start cutting costs. Surely, the loads of subsidized junk mail should go first. And it would be smart to eliminate some POs, as well, provided it was done based on facts, not local politics (one can always dream). Some lower use rural POs should stay, because country folk deserve to get mail too. But here is an example of over-saturation: drive the roughly 30 miles on Route 6 on Cape Cod from Provincetown to Orleans and you will pass six post offices. Three would be more than enough to offer convenience. In contrast, you’ll find only one Fedex office but numerous Fedex drop boxes and reliable next day Fedex delivery.

  • Bill Reeves

    1 english penny in 1850 equaled roughly 86 US Cents in 2000 or about a $1 today. So there have been some productivity increases. And of course the Victorians delivered the penny post in a small, crowded island the size of Missouri. Not a continent. USPS is incompetent but it’s not as inefficient as the 1850 British Post Office.

  • Thomas Wicklund

    The last time I remember next day first class mail delivery was in the 1970s, and that was only to select addresses within a small number of large cities.

    Comparisons with 2 and 3 cent stamps in the past aren’t really fair since I believe the post office was subsidized at the time. People also only received a few letters a week, so the mail carrier didn’t have to deal with huge loads of junk mail.

    We’re likely to go back to the lower first class mail volumes of the past. If junk mail is truly subsidized, and non-profit + media mail are even more so, perhaps Congress needs to appropriate provide the money to cover these (politically mandated) subsidies, with first class mail priced based on the actual cost.

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