The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Opinion

May 27, 2012

Post office plan shows path forward

— The United States Postal Service has announced a plan to preserve post offices in small towns and rural communities across the country while the organization aims to achieve cost savings to return to financial stability. 

After listening to our customers and communities across the country who expressed a strong desire to keep their local post office open, the Postal Service developed a new solution that will preserve a post office in a rural community by modifying the retail window hours. Rural customers would continue to have access to their mailbox and lobby as they do today.  A community would also retain their ZIP code and community identity.  This plan would enable the Postal Service to achieve over a half a billion dollars in annual cost savings in an effort to regain a stronger financial footing. 

Later this year, the Postal Service will hold public meetings with affected communities to gather feedback on this new plan as well as the previously announced options which include a) establishing mail delivery service to residents and businesses by either rural carrier or highway contract route; b) contracting with a local business or community venue to create a Village Post Office; c) providing service from a nearby post office. 

Some communities may opt for a Village Post Office where a local business, like a grocery store, could provide more convenient access to postal products and services 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Additionally, the Postal Service continues to expand alternative access by providing most postal services online at usps.com and developed a new smartphone app where customers can buy stamps and print off shipping labels without leaving their home.

In addition to online offerings, customers can utilize the alternate postal access at more than 70,000 retail partner locations across the country including Walmart, Staples, Office Depot, Walgreens, Sam’s Club, Costco, and many others.  In fact, nearly 40 percent of all retail sales for the Postal Service come from online purchases or at approved postal providers. 

While this trend will continue and reach a point where a majority of customers are accessing postal  services outside of the typical ‘brick and mortar’ post office, there is still a desire to keep post offices open in rural America.  However, 88 percent of small rural post offices do not cover the operating costs to keep the facility open and customer visits to your typical ‘brick and mortar’ post office have declined by more than 27 percent since 2005 with 350 million fewer visits a year.

While the financial crisis has forced the organization to leave no stone unturned in achieving cost reductions to return to financial stability, the Postal Service has not forgotten its fundamental role in delivering for the American public and providing universal access to its products and services.

The new plan to preserve post offices in rural America provides a path forward for small towns and rural communities to keep the flag flying at their local post office. 

Timothy R. Costello is district manager of the U.S. Postal Service.

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