Postal Service to cut costs by consolidating delivery routes

Terry Carter, with the U.S. Postal Service for 14 years, could soon see changes in her route north of the Plaza.

A precipitous drop in the volume of mail coursing through the U.S. Postal System will lead to consolidation of urban carrier routes, possibly affecting daily delivery times for millions.

And your mailman may not be a familiar face.

“We’re facing the biggest decline since the Great Depression,” said Terry Penland, customer relations coordinator for the Postal Service in Kansas City.

The volume of mail in fiscal 2008 dropped more than 4.5 percent, or 9.5 billion pieces, which contributed to a $2.8 billion net loss. The Postal Service is an independent federal agency that is expected to operate like a business.

Postal officials cite the weakened economy as well as the growth of e-commerce and e-mail.

Just like retailers who depend on the holiday season, the Postal Service felt the squeeze this past season. It had projected about 20 billion pieces of mail being posted between Thanksgiving and Christmas but that fell about 1 billion short, said regional Postal Service spokesman Richard Watkins.

The Postal Service’s year-end review anticipates no economic recovery in 2009, with another drop of 8 billion pieces.

The Postal Service managed to cut costs by $2.2 billion last year through reductions in overtime, attrition and new labor agreements. But it still has a mandate to deliver six days a week and the system has added an average of 1.7 million new delivery points a year over the past four years.

The situation is forcing the Postal Service to cut costs by consolidating some of the 85,000 urban delivery routes across the country, including metropolitan Kansas City. The changes could affect as many as 50 million addresses nationwide.

“Some folks have grown up with their city carrier,” Watkins said. “And that may change.”

Adjusting routes may also mean if you currently get your mail around 10 a.m., you may have to wait until after 3 p.m. On the other hand, if you’ve been at the tail end of your old route you might get moved up to be among the first stops on a new one. Or you could notice no difference at all.

“We are moving quickly to adjust carrier routes to respond to the current state of the economy,” Kansas City Postmaster Terry Freeman said in announcing the adjustments.

In the Kansas City area, there are 926 delivery routes serving ZIP codes beginning in 641, 662 and 661 that are potentially being looked at for adjustment.

In what is being called an unprecedented agreement, the National Association of Letter Carriers is on board with the program. The national union joined with the Postal Service to streamline the otherwise cumbersome procedures required to change routes.

“It is solely a good thing,” said Carl Rader, president of union Branch 5521 in Johnson County. “There’s nothing about this that’s a bad thing because it’s a joint effort.”

Fewer pieces of mail means it takes less time for letter carriers to sort it at their stations and it takes less time on their routes to deliver it. A postal station may have several full-time routes but one or two that take less than eight hours to sort and deliver. The delivery points on those routes could be redistributed among the others for greater efficiency and cost savings.

Rader said that does not mean career employees will lose their jobs, but they might be reassigned. The Postal Service is offering early retirement to letter carriers but there have been no involuntary layoffs. The service is relying on attrition to reduce payroll, Penland said.

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