How the Post Office could solve its budget shortfall

mail serviceA story posted earlier today reported the dire situation of the U.S. Postal Service. Increasing costs, particularly fuel, and declining revenue from mail advertising has resulted in a $2.8 billion shortfall last year, with more expected in 2009. As the Postmaster General noses around D.C. looking for a bailout and threatening a cutback in service, I wondered what other alternatives it might have.

1. In an era where more cars are registered in the U.S. than there are drivers, could we function without home delivery? What if the Post Office created convenient drive-through pickup sites where we could receive our mail each day, or less often if we so choose? And perhaps get a soft drink and some fries?

In such a scenario, home delivery could remain an extra-cost option, with vouchers to pay for this service for the housebound. Perhaps mail delivery and newspaper delivery could even be bundled.

2. Is the Post Office charging enough to distribute advertising materials? There is a point of diminishing returns here, a price at which vendors will reduce their mailings and more than wipe out any increase in revenue. From the volume I receive, however, I suspect that the USPS could wring more money out of this area.

3. On foot, door to door delivery of the mail in cities must come at a huge price. Many new developments now have mail box banks, a single site where mail for the entire street is delivered, from which residents retrieve their mail at their leisure. Perhaps it's time to bring that same distribution method to established neighborhoods.

4. The Postmaster General has floated the idea of five day a week delivery. When I was young, the mail was delivered twice a day. I don't remember people protesting too loudly about that cutback. How many people use the USPS for extremely time-sensitive deliveries (except, perhaps, my colleague, Geoff Williams)? With the success of FedEx and UPS, alternatives exist for those who absolutely, positively need to receive something tomorrow. I wouldn't be put out much by eliminating Saturday mail delivery, although I fear Netflix might.

5. How about cutting postal employee's wages? According to the US Department of Labor, the median wage for postal workers is $45,050, not a fortune by any means. I don't see how reducing these modest incomes can solve the service's dilemma.

6. Raise the price of stamps? Again, the law of diminishing returns could make this a non-starter. I already have chosen to receive many of my bills by email, and pay via the Internet. Higher stamp prices could convince more people to do so.

Like many other services we've come to accept as normal, the times are a'changing for the Post Office. I'd hate to see it return to sucking on the government teat. What changes are you willing to accept to keep the mail moving?
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