Cut rural post offices carefully
The proposed service cutbacks being imposed in rural post offices over the next couple of years is a matter of survival for the U.S. Postal Service, which expects to lose $14 billion this year. And while people who live in small communities need, and deserve, mail service as much as those living in large ones, some sacrifices are obviously necessary if the Postal Service is to remain in business, and it makes the most sense to impose them on customers of the least-used post offices.
Still, as Esperance Supervisor Earl Van Wormer III suggested in Tuesday’s Gazette story, the cutbacks can be imposed rationally — with customers’ needs taken into account — as opposed to the Postal Service simply doing what’s most expedient for itself. Post offices have never kept evening hours, and it seems unlikely to think they would start doing so now. But if a post office is only going to be open two to four hours daily, why not consider hours that make it more convenient for working people? Like 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., maybe? Or, in cases of post offices with just two hours, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.?
Another idea is to stagger the hours of operation in neighboring communities’ post offices so they’re not concurrent, but more or less consecutive. For example, if the post office in Esperance is only going to be open from 8 a.m. till 2 p.m., have the one just four miles down the road in Sloansville stay open till 4 p.m. (or later) so someone who can’t get to the former one on time can maybe hit the latter one.
Perhaps it would even be possible for the Postal Service to use the same employees in neighboring towns’ facilities, having clerks jump in their cars at the end of one two- or four-hour shift, drive a few minutes down the road and open up in the next town for another two or four hours. That way, more employees might be able to continue working full-time instead of having their hours cut.
The Postal Service says it is making an effort to keep as many of these rural branches open as possible, which is good. Given that the result, in many cases, will be severe service cutbacks, the Postal Service should also be doing as much as it can to minimize customers’ inconvenience.