The U.S. Postal Service’s decision to end most Saturday mail deliveries in August will disappoint many patrons and might meet congressional resistance, but it’s probably for the best — and it isn’t as if we didn’t see this coming.
Saturday mail will be missed, but that’s probably as much because of what patrons hope to find in the mailbox — a check from a distant aunt or a postcard from overseas — as anything else. Patrons will adjust. Besides, Americans now have better, quicker ways to communicate with one another; those have contributed to the Postal Service’s decision.
More important, this change is intended to help the Postal Service adjust to a changing environment. The move is expected to save $2 billion a year; that matters given that the agency lost $15.9 billion in the last budget year alone and has cut more than one-quarter of its work force since 2006. Much of the financial loss is associated with a federal mandate unique to the Postal Service to set aside $5.5 billion a year for futures retirees — a mandate the agency has opposed from the outset.
As for who will be hurt, the National Association of Letter Carriers is right to worry about layoffs and reassignments. Businesses, as well as rural and elderly customers who count on daily first-class mail service, could be affected. Also, although newspapers now publish online, the change could delay mail delivery in some areas.
It’s worth noting that not all Saturday delivery will be halted. The Internet has cut into delivery of letters and bill-paying, but the proliferation of online businesses has led to an increase in package deliveries, and those will continue on Saturdays. Also, post offices now open on Saturdays would remain open with mail being delivered to post office boxes.
It’s possible that Congress, which has prohibited five-day delivery in the past, could try to stymie this move, but lawmakers ought to resist the urge. Though the Postal Service’s operations have long required congressional approval, the agency doesn’t receive any tax revenue. In fact congressional involvement seems to have been driven more by political than business considerations.
And from a business perspective, the decision makes sense.