Late Deliveries in West, Southwest Trouble Mailers

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Mailers and printers are watching a recent spate of late mail deliveries in the Southwest and West, as well as reports of mail being delivered at night.


Reports surfaced last month that areas in California and New Mexico were having regular delays of one or two days, and in some cases four. In other cases, mail was being delivered to residences as late as 10 p.m.


Steve LeNoir, president of the National League of Postmasters, said service has taken a beating in the two states because of hiring issues. LeNoir said the league has been working on these problems at the local and national level and met with officials at postal headquarters last week.


"Many carriers are out until 9 p.m. or even past 10 p.m. delivering mail," he said.


Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, ranking minority member on the House Committee on Government Reform, and chairman Tom Davis, R-VA, cited problems in the Los Angeles area in a Jan. 31 letter to Postmaster General John E. Potter.


"Customers have complained of receiving mail late in the evening; other accounts involve misdirected mail and personnel shortages in postal facilities," the letter said.


Waxman and Davis also asked Potter to provide information on staffing, plant closures and delivery schedules in advance of the committee's oversight hearing on the U.S. Postal Service, set for Feb. 16.


Waxman wants to know what percentage of mail in the Los Angeles area is being delivered after 5 p.m. He also has requested data on staffing levels over the past three years, copies of customer complaint logs and any analyses of cost savings related to plant closings.


"We would like to better understand precisely why service standards in the area appear to have dropped," the letter said. "In addition, we would like to examine whether similar patterns are occurring elsewhere in the United States."


The letter also said postal officials have acknowledged problems and pledged to take steps to remedy them, including earlier start times for carriers, hiring more personnel and improving mail processing.


USPS spokesman Gerry McKiernan said officials are "conducting numerous route adjustment studies in the Los Angeles area with an eye toward improving service there." He also said Potter promised New Mexico's senators that their state would get better service. Republican Pete Domenici and Democrat Jeff Bingaman approached Potter after hearing complaints from constituents about long lines and late mail in Albuquerque as well as service concerns in Santa Fe and Las Cruces.


McKiernan said the problem is holiday related.


"Businesses obviously increase their mail during the holidays, and then there is an adjustment in the period that follows," he said. "We are also trying to look at whether there is an increase in Standard mail in those areas so we can make adjustments accordingly."


Another factor is that 2 million addresses were added last year, mostly in warmer areas of the country.


"Basically, we are seeing more mail, and it is not being evenly distributed on routes," McKiernan said.


Large printers are monitoring the situation.


"We have noticed -- and our customers have told us of -- some late deliveries and some delayed Standard mail deliveries in pockets in the West," said Michael J. Winn, director of postal affairs at R.R. Donnelley & Sons Inc., Chicago. "Right now, the West Coast is in the spotlight."


Winn agreed with the postal service's assessment that the USPS simply has more addresses to deliver to.


"There are some very simple facts that make it a challenge for the postal service to always have consistent deliveries," Winn said. "The fact is they are adding 2 million delivery points a year, and they are constantly shifting the network to compensate for that."


A published list designates sites that are under consideration for consolidation or closing, he said, and "that gives you an indication that their network is constantly in flux, and they are constantly deploying automation to handle all the volumes they are getting.


"To me, it's like trying to remodel your kitchen while you are cooking Thanksgiving dinner. You can't stop. You have to keep doing what you are doing, but at the same time make big changes."


McKiernan, however, said that the plant consolidations were unrelated to the delivery delays on the West Coast.


"We've noticed that deliveries have been about a day or two behind in the Southwest and West and also in some other areas of the country," said Joseph E. Schick, director of postal affairs at Quad/Graphics Inc., Sussex, WI. "At this time of year, when volumes are down, that can be significant. [Still,] it hasn't gotten to the point where I'd have to bring the issue up at headquarters."


Schick said he addressed the issue with the postal service's business service network, which offers large business mailers personalized service and help.


A representative from another large printer who requested anonymity said the West Coast delivery problem has arisen in "nearly every industry meeting over the past few months, and it is becoming problematic. One publisher says it takes two weeks for a magazine to get delivered in California."


Kate Muth, vice president of the Association for Postal Commerce, said the delivery problems only exacerbate the need for performance measurements for more classes of mail. The USPS tracks service performance only for single-piece First-Class mail.


"If there were delivery performance measurements for Standard mail and Periodicals, there wouldn't be as much speculation," she said. "Folks would know where the problems are, and it would provide a snapshot of the trouble spots or where things are running smoothly. Standard mail is where the growth in the system is, and Periodicals mail is the consumers' anchor to the mailbox. You certainly can't afford to lose these classes of mail to service problems."


Muth said the association supports the postal service's efforts to address the issues of efficiencies, "but it can't be at the expense of service."


Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, CRM and database marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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