The U.S. Postal Service delivers mail right to the front doors of more than 35 million American households and businesses. But door to door postal services are by far the most expensive and labor intensive - not to mention dangerous - mode of delivery for the beleaguered semi-independent government agency.
The Postal Service's Office of Inspector General believes it's time to end door to door postal services - or begin charging for them - following the agency's record $8.5 billion loss in 2010, which forced it to consider seeking an increase in its $15 billion debt ceiling or face insolvency.
"This strategic plan would significantly reduce delivery costs and could be implemented internally through policy changes. It would not require congressional approval, unlike other significant cost-savings initiatives, such as moving from 6- to 5-day delivery," the Office of Inspector General said in 2011.
"At the same time, these changes would increase fairness and consistency of service to customers, as curbside delivery would be the primary delivery mode." Curbside, the most popular delivery mode, allows postal workers to put the mail into mailboxes without leaving their vehicles.
Cost of Door to Door Postal Services
Door to door postal services cost the agency more than $12 billion every year, and getting rid of them could erase half of its multibillion-dollar annual deficit. The Postal Service delivers mail to the front doors of precisely 30,370,776 homes and 4,687,611 business, according to the Office of Inspector General.
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Delivering mail right to the doorstep costs $353.02 per household every year in urban areas, and $278.44 per household every year in rural areas, according to the inspector general's study. Curbside delivery, by comparison, costs the Postal Service only $224.09 per household every year in urban areas, and $176.74 per household every year in rural areas, the Office of Inspector General reported.
The most efficient and cost effective of the Postal Service's three modes of delivery is centralized delivery. That involves grouping or clustering mail receptacles at one delivery point, such as apartment mail receptacles, or several boxes grouped together at a single point. Centralized mail delivery, at $160.51 per city household annually and $126.60 in rural areas, costs less than half of what door to door postal services cost.
Dumping Door to Door Postal Services
The inspector general suggested dumping door to door postal services, or at the very least charging a fee.
"Converting existing door-to-door to curbside delivery could save the Postal Service more than $4.5 billion," its study found. "If the Postal Service converted all delivery modes to centralized delivery, it could save an additional $5.1 billion."
The inspector general added: "With the current financial situation the Postal Service is facing, mail volume declines, and financial losses, the Postal Service may need to consider charging customers a fee to receive mail delivery at their door versus at the curbside or at a centralized delivery point."
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"Charging a fee for door-to-door delivery would increase fairness as the increased delivery cost for this extra service would be borne by postal ratepayers, as well as customers who request the additional level of service."
In addition to dumping door to door services, the Postal Service was considering a host of cost-saving measures including the closure of as many as 3,700 facilities, the elimination of wasteful spending on travel, the end of Saturday mail and cutting delivery to just three days a week. It suspended bonuses for top executives.
History of Door to Door Postal Services
The Postal Service first began delivering mail to home addresses in 1863, when the U.S. Congress allowed it in cities where local postal income was sufficient to pay for such door to door service, according to the Office of Inspector General. In rural areas, door to door postal services began in 1902.
At first, postal workers were forced to wait for mail recipients to answer their doors; if the homeowner was away, they had to come back another time. Then, in 1923, the Postal Service required every household to install either a mail slot for door to door delivery, or a mailbox for curbside delivery.
Prior to that, in the 19th century, the cost of postage merely covered the costs of delivering mail from post office to post office and recipients were made to pick up their mail there. In larger cities postal customers could pay more for letter delivery to home or use private delivery firms.