USPS has had a tumultuous few years. As it works to remain a sustainable business and enact reforms by working with federal legislators, it has had to deal with competition from other companies and a decline in mail volumes.
Among its proposals to reduce costs was the idea of shutting down less-busy facilities and post offices, as well as cutting Saturday deliveries and raising prices. These ideas have been met with varying levels of support and opposition.
However, USPS continues to innovate, seek out new avenues for profits and expanded customer services. It recently announced a new plan that aims to keep the smaller offices that were on the chopping block open for local businesses and customers. The strategy involves updating locations to run on retail window hours that align with customers' schedules and use of the service. Companies and local residents alike will be able to enter the retail lobby and access their PO Boxes as they did before, and will not see any changes to their community identities or ZIP codes, USPS said.
The plan -- projected to deliver cost savings of $500,000 per year once finished -- is laid out in a two-year, multi-phased framework, set for completion in September 2014.
"Meeting the needs of postal customers is, and will always be, a top priority. We continue to balance that by better aligning service options with customer demand and reducing the cost to serve," stated postmaster general and CEO Patrick R. Donahoe in the announcement. He added that rural customers' calls to keep local post offices open had not gone unheeded, noting that this plan could achieve two goals: reducing USPS costs while fulfilling customers' needs.
Before the changes can be enacted, the Postal Regulatory Commission will have to approve the plan, and community meetings will also be held to give residents a chance to learn about the proposals in greater detail. According to a survey conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, more than half of rural customers favored the modified retail window solution in order to keep their local Post Offices open. Just 11 percent said they would rather have expanded rural delivery, while 20 percent supported the idea of a Village Post Office and 15 percent would opt for receiving service from a nearby Post Office.
USPS said in the announcement that this plan will align nicely with existing alternatives, such as having local businesses win contracts to operate Village Post Offices, having a nearby Office cover a larger region and continuing service for companies and consumers in the area by offering a rural carrier or highway contract route.
As Los Angeles Times reporter Ian Duncan explains, the proposal would keep more than 13,160 Post Offices open, although they would only operate for between two and six hours daily. Currently, USPS is losing $25 million every day, he notes, and the future of the service is still fragile.
In an interview with Duncan, Senator Joe Lieberman (who had co-sponsored a Senate bill to help save USPS), said he was "disappointed" that USPS was introducing this new plan while Congress was still working to re-establish the service's financial footing. However, he conceded that the changes went along with the legislation passed by the Senate.
Megan Brennan, Postal Service chief operating officer, commented that no offices would close without USPS offering a "viable solution."
"The Postal Service is committed to serving America's communities and providing a responsible and fair approach for our employees and customers," Brennan said. "The Post Offices in rural America will remain open unless a community has a strong preference for one of the other options."