PRC clears USPS to reduce hours of retail service

The U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS) oversight body, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), released on August 23 its advisory opinion on the nationwide Post Office Structure Plan (POStPlan), which allows the USPS to begin implementing reduced hours of retail service at approximately 13,000 locations, says PRC chairman Ruth Goldway.

Operating hours will remain unchanged at most post offices, and fewer than 100 locations will see an increase. Mail and parcel delivery times are unaffected by the POStPlan changes, which focus on reducing post office retail operating costs without violating Title 39, USPS’s legislative mandate for comprehensive nationwide service.

By issuing a favorable opinion, the PRC signals that USPS can make the proposed changes without falling afoul of statute. Over the next two years the affected locations will reduce weekday operations to two, four, or six hours. The plan maintains all collection and post office box services and Saturday hours remain unchanged.

To calibrate the new hours of service to the needs of local communities, the USPS will survey customers and stage presentations at each of the 13,000 affected locations. “The issue was to align retail hours with what customer demand seemed to be in these communities, and to provide universal service but with fewer hours of access,” Goldway says. “We believe that the Postal Service has demonstrated that they have a commitment to universal service and retail access through this plan, and believe it meets the minimum standards of Title 39.”

The USPS estimated annual savings of $516 million as a result of the proposed changes. After crunching numbers, the PRC found an expected value in line with that estimate, but noted that savings could vary by more than $100 million in either direction, depending on the success of the plan and the salary levels of employees with reduced hours.

With the USPS’s most recent quarterly loss of $5.2 billion, the POStPlan alone does not address the organization’s funding challenges. The PRC’s published opinion casts some doubt on the USPS’s ability to successfully implement these changes and maintain expected service levels, noting that finding staff to capably fulfill part-time duties in post offices open as little as two hours per day could prove a major obstacle.

In a concurring opinion attached to the PRC’s report, Goldway expressed concern that the USPS was not making optimal use of online communication channels to survey and inform postal customers of upcoming changes, and that the survey draft presented to the commission could potentially mislead customers about choosing to close their local post office in favor of a Village Post Office, which offers a narrower range of services.

As well, the PRC announced today that it has approved the Postal Service’s negotiated service agreement with Valassis.

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