published Thursday, January 12th, 2012

No reprieve for Postal Service

The U.S. Postal Service’s nearly $10-billion deficit last year may be compounded this year by even greater losses if drastic cutbacks in services and operations are not made. So it is hardly a surprise that post office officials held another series of public meetings here this week to discuss the possible closure of one or more local facilities. The agency says that a decision about stations in Highland Park, East Brainerd and Alton Park will be made by June. The reality is that there’s not much left to decide. Many stations across the country will be closed, and one or more here likely will be included.

Meetings earlier this week between Postal Service officials, patrons and clients of the stations listed for possible closure were designed to elicit public comment. Given the circumstances, the course of the meetings was predictable.

Officials explained why they need to close stations. Area residents countered with explanations of why a nearby post office was vital to them, to their communities and to their businesses. There was, as one might expect, no common ground.

That does not make either the process or the likelihood that a local post office or post offices will be shut down any easier. Postal officials have little choice other than to pursue the current course if it is to remain financially viable in the face of swiftly eroding demand for first-class mail services. Though many individuals and business still want and use such services, the truth is that they are increasingly unsustainable.

More and more individuals have turned to the Internet to send letters and to send and receive bills. One member of The Times Free Press staff, for example, says that he has not bought or used a stamp in months, or perhaps a year, and that he probably hasn’t looked in his mailbox for a couple of weeks. Everything, or almost everything of importance, that once reached him through the mail now comes and goes electronically. Multiply that by millions and its easy to see why the Postal Service is in difficulty.

The service, a federally mandated but not funded agency, can’t continue to operate using its current but archaic business model. It has to change both internally and externally to survive. That’s what the meetings here and elsewhere across the country about closing offices, consolidating back-shop facilities and, perhaps, reducing delivery days are all about. They are as much an announcement as they are a request for information.

It is increasingly apparent that the Postal Service will reduce services. It has little choice. All that’s left to be determined is when and where cuts will be made. The best, then, that the public can hope for is that the forthcoming changes will be made in a manner that carefully balances public need with marketplace reality.

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