Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 23, 2011

Palo Alto residents to see postal changes

With fewer mail carriers, delivery times could be affected

by Sue Dremann and Dave Boyce

With the U.S. Postal Service facing insolvency this month, Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents could soon see changes in their mail delivery and carriers, a postal service spokesman said this week.

The postal service has lost $20 billion in revenues over the last four years $8.5 billion in fiscal year 2010 alone. People aren't mailing letters like they used to, due to the economic crisis and use of the Internet, spokesman Augustine Ruiz said. Mail volume has dropped by 20 percent in four years.

Changes must be made so that the postal service can pay $5.5 billion it owes to its retiree health-benefit program and so that it can have cash reserves, according to the President's Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction.

To cut costs, the postal service is installing machines to sort packages, which will reduce the need for carriers to sort them. With more time on their hands, the carriers would be given longer mail-delivery routes.

One postal worker who asked to remain anonymous said he feared that Palo Alto could lose 14 or more carriers. Palo Alto employs 129 carriers and 17 relief carriers, according to the postmaster's office.

"The public is definitely going to see changes and soon," the carrier said.

But Palo Alto Postmaster Dean Maeda did not specify how many, if any, positions would be cut.

In Menlo Park, Portola Valley and Atherton, the consolidation of mail routes on Aug. 30 resulted in 12 fewer routes. The number of routes changed from 67 to 55, according to Menlo Park Postmaster Jeffrey D. Gaskill. The 12 postal carriers were to be reassigned to local post offices that needed them, he said.

Customers and mail carriers have expressed sadness about the changes, Gaskill said. Some carriers have had the same route for 20 years and have seen residents' kids grow up.

Fewer carriers on the street would also mean the consolidation of some routes in Palo Alto, Ruiz said. Customers who now get mail in the morning could see their deliveries arrive in the late afternoon, or vice versa.

Ruiz said the postal service is still working out the details, but mail carriers who lose their routes could be placed in another facility if there are vacancies or might be moved off the streets and into other positions.

Ruiz said some carriers might retire, but no one would be forced to take early retirement.

Saturday delivery could also be on the chopping block.

On Sept. 19, President Barack Obama's administration backed a postal-service plan that would cut Saturday mail delivery and would allow the sale of non-postal products. If approved by Congress, the Saturday delivery could be eliminated by the end of this year or early in 2012, Ruiz said.

The postal service is also considering closure of 37,000 postal stations nationwide, but none of the stations would be in Palo Alto or Menlo Park. The postal service could also consolidate 252 mail-preparation facilities, which could affect 30,000 to 35,000 employees, he said.

"We're doing everything we can while suffering this downturn," Ruiz said, adding the postal service has made $12 billion in cost reductions in four years and reduced employee ranks by another 110,000.

But Ruiz said staff cuts would not be enough.

"It's the things that are out of our control that we can't change. We don't control the Internet and the economy," he said.

The postal service saw mail volume decrease from 213 billion pieces in 2006 to 171 billion through fiscal year 2010.

"The first-class letter probably won't see those volumes come back, but as more people shop in the Internet, more packages will be shipped. To my knowledge, nobody has figured out how to email a sweater," he said.

At this point, package shipments and standard or advertising mail growth are stagnant, although Ruiz said both remain areas of projected growth as the economy recovers. The postal service is seeing signs of recovery now, he said.

"It takes roughly three pieces of standard mail to replace the contribution of a single piece of first-class mail. However, we have introduced a new product called Every Door Direct Mail that has proven profitable in the direct-mail business," he said. Small businesses with tight budgets can target specific areas without needing a permit or investing in a mailing list, he said.

The postal-service plan would also restructure a mandatory annual $5.5 billion retiree health benefit payment. It would also refund nearly $7 billion the postal service said it has overpaid into the Federal Employee Retirement System.

The postal service is also asking for a legislative change to eliminate layoff protections in its union agreements so it can eliminate jobs quickly to meet its 2015 goals. The plan or any portion of it would not take effect unless it receives a favorable vote from Congress, potentially in early 2012, Ruiz said.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com; Almanac Staff Writer Dave Boyce can be emailed at dboyce@almanacnews.com.

Comments

Posted by envision remaining in the first world, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2011 at 9:57 am

People are mailing less because of the economy, but it would be wrong to say mail volume is down because of the internet. In 2006, the postal service saw its highest mail volume ever in its history, long after the internet honed in on letter mail. The internet also increased package mail.

That year the rightwing Congress also put huge, nonsensical restrictions on the postal service that made it impossible for them to remain fiscally sound, and they knew it.

"Changes must be made so that the postal service can pay $5.5 billion it owes to its retiree health-benefit program and so that it can have cash reserves,..." This is not to pay for existing retirees. This is to PRE-FUND for future retirees that may or may not even be.

I don't think the postal service should cut Saturday service, because that's what makes it competitive over the other services which don't delivery on Saturday.

I like the postal service. None of the other services offers the same kind of in-store service. None of the others takes letter mail, or has such good rates for small packages. I think in particular, our Palo Alto carriers do a really good job.

Why doesn't the postal service offer other services that could make money, such as a "virtual address" -- something that works like a street address that can be used online for commerce if people don't want to use their home addresses online for privacy? (USPS would ideally partner with UPS and FEDEX over this, so that people don't have to post their home address indelibly for the whole world in order to post an address online.) It would make forwarding -- permanently -- a snap, too.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2011 at 10:44 am

In the UK there is strong talk about the banking industry doing away with check clearance altogether, although this has been delayed. What it would mean is that all banking, bill sending and paying, for all customers would have to be done online or by texting (a system not really used here).

To counter this the UK Post Office would be turned into bill paying offices for those who have no computer facility at home or know how. As it is the UK Post Offices are already places where what we do here at the DMV, Social Security Office, as well as other services are carried out.

The Post Office here will have to evolve into another type of service to keep up with modern life. I don't think that home delivery services will ever end, at least for the next few decades, but the way we use it may evolve. The physical Post Office building should evolve into a communications center using internet services for small businesses and some family needs as well as perhaps taking on some of the additional roles of say car registration, voter registration, social security and benefit requests to keep them viable.

Out of the box thinking is required, not more of the same.

And on another note, I think the PA Utilities must be doing its part in keeping mail secure in Palo Alto with all the mail it sends out on a regular basis!


Posted by Disgusted Postal Service customer, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Sep 23, 2011 at 11:21 am

The Postal Service is SOOOOOOOO messed up here.

For years, I have regularly received the mail of a family that lives on another street than mine, but has the same street number as mine.

Now even WORSE, I recently, for the first time, a PACKAGE that was sent to them!!! The mailman who delivers can't even check that a package is going to the proper address???

I went to the post office and reported the mail mix up problem multiple times in the past, but it never made more than a very temporary difference.

Never have UPS or Fedex deliverd at my house a package that was addressed to someone else.


Posted by Disgusted Postal Service customer, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Sep 23, 2011 at 11:23 am

I recently received* a package...


Posted by wish my job offered such great benefits, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Changes must be made so that the postal service can pay $5.5 billion it owes to its retiree health-benefit program and so that it can have cash reserves, according to the President's Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction.

if they didn't have such lucrative benefits, others could have a job longer. while USP retirees can feel secure in having great benefits, other people with families will no longer have a job, let alone some sort of medical benefits. in some ways they brought it on themselves...a low tech job with great pay and benefits. has the USP considered cutting benefits?

just check out some of their benefits now...wish i received 4 weeks vacation after just 3 years on the job!!


Posted by wish my job offered such great benefits, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Web Link


Posted by Joshua, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 23, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I could do without Saturday deliveries. Cutting that out, I figure, would allow the Postal Service to reduce the number of carriers by about 14 percent.


Posted by Emigrated Brit, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2011 at 1:03 pm

There are new programs presently being developed which will allow you to mail a letter and/or checks over the internet by using your regular mailing address and a password - that will make the mail service as we know it obsolete.

Saturday deliveries should end immediately because it will allow the Post Office to reduce staff and overtime costs which otherwise must be organized to cover six days of deliveries. Also, post offices should be closed; high rents for the physical locations (such as the new post office on Main Street in Los Altos) are bankrupting the service.

Meanwhile, some European countries have privatized their post offices so the government is no longer involved. Britain has closed many of it's rural post offices and reduced postal delivery in rural areas to once a week, which is forcing people to get internet savvy.

Incidentally, rural areas in the UK get garbage collection once a month and you are encouraged to compost tea leaves, coffee grounds and waste food.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 23, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Why don't they try (not a super drastic) step A - eliminate Sat. service, get a quick read on results (cost savings, customer feedback, etc.) and THEN go on to more drastic steps. I am not ready to close down US Postal Service.


Posted by em, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 23, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Why don't they cut the postal workers' high pay (which is completely out of sync with the private sector) + benefits before cutting services?


Posted by Don'tNeedonSAT, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I agree with Joshua, No mail deliveries on Saturday. We really don't need it, and if you need something faster, there are plenty of ways to get it there fast.


Posted by anciana, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 23, 2011 at 6:39 pm

I think the post office does a great job. Really, it's fantastic how accurate they are given the billion or more pieces of mail they deal with every year.

Also, the mailman is a presence in the neighborhood. A human being who comes almost every day, who can notice changes, who can help some of us ancianas if we're having trouble. I read recently that a mailman saved the life of a woman. He noticed that she wasn't picking up her mail and got the police to come. They found her on the floor, in time to save her life.

I'mall for the post office!


Posted by Lucien, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Moving folks around to other jobs in the USPS when closing post offices or ending Saturday service is not going to cut costs. The only way to do that is cut jobs and benefits to be on a par with industry standards.

BTW I'm white, I speak and read English fluently and I'm great with numbers, but for some reason that seems to be a disqualification when I apply for a postal job.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 23, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Em commented on mailcarriers high pay. What is that high pay, ballpark figure?

We have a lousy mailman, sorry to say. He forgets things, then comes back super late to deliver what he forgot, chats waaaay too long w/people & is often on personal calls on his cell. He's scared all out of proportion of dogs (what comes first, a future mail carrier being born scared of dogs, or becoming scared while doing their job? It's a chicken & egg question, methinks).

Overall, though, I like the USPS but it needs some, ahem, innovation, at least in high population areas. I wish it was like the Rita Mae Brown books, but it's not like that in Sili Valley or any other major met area.


Posted by FS, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 23, 2011 at 8:10 pm

There are good and not so good carriers but it has to be a boring job.
The cost of sending letters and packages is a bargain in my opinion.
I can avail myself of many of their services using their web site and check on delivery.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2011 at 9:50 pm

@ envision remaining in the first world:

You said: >>>> "That year the rightwing Congress also put huge, nonsensical restrictions on the postal service that made it impossible for them to remain fiscally sound, and they knew it." <<<<

Can you provide some information or credible links about this? It would be interesting to determine if there is any truth to this claim.

Thanks.


Posted by waste not, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 23, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Our postal carriers - it seems to be a different person every day - drive the mail truck from house to house. Stop and turn off the engine at every house. Drop the mail (often the wrong mail) in the slot, then walk empty-handed back down the short residential driveway to fire that engine back up and drive 25 feet to the next driveway. Perhaps THIS waste of gas and vehicle wear and tear is anther reason the USPS is out of money.

Our service is terrible. We always get mail when we HOLD our mail on a vacation. We did not get mail for a week when we moved houses. We often get our neighbors mail. It goes on. Perhaps the delivery would be more accurate if the postal carriers weren't breathing all those truck fumes from stopping and starting their truck every 25 feet.


Posted by Mike, a resident of University South
on Sep 24, 2011 at 8:18 am

Up the first ckass stamps to $1.


Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside
on Sep 24, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Just another in a seemingly infinite series of institutions destroyed by the greed of public sector unions...


Posted by Bravery, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 24, 2011 at 4:12 pm

"I'm white, I speak and read English fluently and I'm great with numbers, but for some reason that seems to be a disqualification when I apply for a postal job."

Not a lot of people would admit publicly they failed a civil service test.

Nor publicly admit the only reason for their failure is, in their minds, racism.

Brave Lucien.


Posted by PC Cowardice, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 24, 2011 at 8:59 pm

The USPS seems to be a good value for customers.

It's true that in Palo Alto, the carriers often can't read English, or find it so difficult that they don't take the effort to do so.

This caused repeated errors of mail wrongly delivered to houses with the same number as part of their address, but totally different street names.

I complained to the local station and finally the postmaster and found an improvement for a few weeks, only to find the problem return within a month. Substitutes do even worse.

This cycle occurred at three different addresses in Palo Alto over the decades. It seems to be a permanent feature of the local mail delivery system.


Posted by Robert, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Do the US Postal Service employees have a union?

If yes, there it is! That's the problem. All of the leeches bleed us bloodless. From the police union, the firemen union, the teachers union, they all bleed us dry.


Posted by What abaout the banks, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2011 at 2:36 pm

That's right, Robert. And the crooked bankers and rating agencies who put the whole world into a recession have nothing to do with it. Yeah, right.


Posted by Jerome Levy, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2011 at 4:26 pm

There might be more savings with fewer carriers because of the savings using fewer vehicles and less gas.


Posted by weneedapostalservice, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 26, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Joseph E. Davis: "Just another in a seemingly infinite series of institutions destroyed by the greed of public sector unions..."

No, destroyed by the cream-skimmer and cherry-picker companies who will gladly deliver packages for top dollar, but leave the periodicals, ads and letters to the despised public service.

Hurrah for the public unions. Maybe if workers in private industry still had unions, their wages wouldn't have stagnated and made the public salaries and benefits looks extravagent. You have it exactly backward.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2011 at 1:43 pm

weneedpostalservice - you don't think a union that does not allow any layoffs had anything to do with the financial mess that the post office is in? As far as the periodicals, ads and letters - I bet UPS would contract to deliver periodical and I can do without the ads, I recycle them all anyway. And I can't remember the last time I got a letter - its been years. So that leaves bills and cards.


Posted by Get real, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 27, 2011 at 4:06 pm

For those complaining about the USPS - and granted, it's not perfect - you have non idea what a powerful lobby there is from UPS, FedEx and other carriers to decimate the USPS. So, not too far down the road, when you're paying $2.00 to mail a letter, remember what the good old days were like with USPS. Another sacrificial lamb on the altar of so-called "economic efficiency", all while banks and insurance companies and a good number of private corporations gut yuor world, to make themselves more wealthy.

Have a nice day.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Get Real - excluding Christmas and Birthday cards, I haven't mailed a letter or bill in years, so $2 a letter wouldn't bother me at all. I would probably pare down my Christmas card list though :) If the other result was less junk mail, that would be absolutely awesome!


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 27, 2011 at 6:21 pm

I truly love getting cards & letters in the mail. I love sending them, too, as time allows. It's just so much nicer for the recipient to open than a bill or junk mail. We also sometimes mail cards to people whose yards we love. Yes, we're garden peepers, but we don't trespass. So if you receive one from us, it's a compliment!


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 28, 2011 at 11:37 am

Hmmm - what a nice thing to do!


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Thanks, PA Mom! I did it as a kid (looove gardens!) & especially loved doing it during time spent in the deep south. We also used to leave May Day flowers on peoples' doorsteps when we were kids.

If you can take the time to send a card, it's really fun- the trickiest part of course is taking the time to get the address.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2011 at 7:28 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

5 day service would not be the end of the world. I remember when we had twice daily delivery, and that loss was survivable. Try 5 days and a 50 cent stamp and see what happens.


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