Yesterday Postmaster General John Potter unveiled a controversial plan
to save the Postal Service by cutting the number of post offices and dropping Saturday delivery. I think those are both great ideas to address how people use the mail system now, but they aren’t thinking forward enough.
First off they need to address the fact that people aren’t sending as much through the mail any more since they can do everything electronically. On August 6, 2009 Potter spoke to Congress
about the state of the USPS and in his prepared remarks of 8,035 words he never said “email” “electronic” or even “computer”. (Though he did discuss budget issues and employee benefit costs to which I have no insight.)
Of course, the people on the front line know what’s going on. NPR interviewed Daniel Jones
the postmaster of Asheville, North Carolina to get his opinion on the proposal and how the post office has changed through time. He cuts right to the point and points to a decline in the volume of mail sent which can be instead done through the internet. People send emails instead of letters but also bank online which eliminates the statement mailed from the bank, bills sent from a third party and a check mailed back.
And while those might be bad for the USPS, they’re great for everyone else. In addition to banking online being more convenient, it’s so much better for the environment. We use less paper and don’t have the carbon footprint of mail trucks and planes sending an slip of paper across the country. The USPS is actively refusing to Go Green
. Which isn’t surprising since it will cost them their jobs. But here’s the thing about that, if someone’s job only exists to give that person a job, then it’s unnecessary. This isn’t the nicest thing to say while we’re in a recession, but lots of other people have had jobs that were rendered obsolete over the course of human history. Today NPR even put together a slideshow
of jobs society decided it didn’t need any more. And while NPR didn’t say this was in reference to postal carriers, I think it’s pretty clear where their inspiration came from.
The big defense of the Post Office is that “it’s part of the community” and a “place to meet and locate, you know, to congregate, to get together and talk”. This is simply a lie. I live in a moderately sized city now and I’ve lived in a small town and I’ve been to smaller towns and I can categorically say that no one goes to the Post Office to hang out. No one decides to go to the Post Office to see what the word on the street is. Anyone at the Post Office is just counting the seconds until they can leave the Post Office after standing in that DMV-like line, talking with the unorganized and unprofessional person behind the counter and waiting for them to dig around in the back room for whatever it is that they came in for.
The Post Office is not a pleasant experience. And what’s more, we’ve seen it done better. FedEx and UPS are both superior systems that offer better tracking and customer service, but it’s comes with a higher price tag. Is there a middle ground? Yes, we just have to look to the dry cleaners.
Automated dry cleaners
are the wave of the future. With these systems people drop off their clothes with a machine and get a ticket they return later and give the machine back their ticket and after paying the clothes are returned. It’s quicker, easier and cheaper and available around the clock. Some of these are even drive-throughs.
So how does the Post Office adopt this? Here’s the journey of mail in the future:
My mom wants to mail a package to me, she goes online and fills out the information, a label prints out which she puts on the box. At the same time I get an email that a package is on its way to me. The next time she goes to the now fully automated Post Office she inserts the box into its bin, the barcode is scanned and the pack is identified. The mail travels to my local Post Office and I get an email that it has arrived. I stop by the Post Office on my way home from work and wave my ID card (or fob or phone or whatever) at the sensor, a bin opens up and I collect my email and my mom gets an email I’ve picked up the package.
It’s a quick and painless operation for both my mom and me that works on our schedule. The costs are low because there are the fewest people necessary involved and the infrastructure costs are divided among the many users.
That’s a better mail system for everyone involved and I came up with it after a single day of thinking about it. It doesn’t even require new technology to be developed, just properly applied. Let’s stop thinking about how to save jobs we’ve evolved past and start thinking about how to make the world work better for us all.
Let the post office die. We can rebuild it-we have the technology.