June 23, 2011

Mailman missing in action

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Employment, Politics at 4:08 am by dinaheng

I love the U.S. Postal Service.

Six days a week, rain or shine, mail carriers deliver the letters, magazines, bills, checks, advertising, and packages that, in a small way, define where we live. It’s like having your own personal Santa Claus who brings you a surprise every day — paychecks for being nice… and, well, we won’t talk about what you get for being naughty.

Since I live in a condominium, and the mailbox holds a limited amount of mail, I always file a vacation hold request with the post office when I travel. Recently, I was out of town for a couple of weeks, and asked that delivery resume on the day I returned.

I was surprised that there was no mail in the box or on my doorstep when I got back, so went into the post office to see what had happened. A clerk checked and told me there was no record of my vacation hold request and no mail was being held for me, so the carrier must have it. If nothing came today, the mail would resume tomorrow.

I went home, removed the vacation hold post-it that the carrier had placed inside my box, and left a note taped to the outside of the box that I was back. Next day, there was about a week’s worth of mail in the box. I called the branch to ask where was the rest of my mail. The person who answered looked around, found six pieces of mail on the vacation hold shelf, and said it would be delivered the next day. Unfortunately, everything else I was expecting was nowhere to be found.

She promised to give notes to the carrier and the supervisor, explaining that I was missing all my usual utility bills, bank statement, two credit card statements, and two paychecks.

My regular carrier, Cease, is always great about delivering my vacation hold mail intact, which is why I always give him a small token of appreciation at the holidays. Since he plays Santa year-round for me, the least I can do is say thanks at Christmastime. Besides, I have an uncle and a friend who are retired USPS folks, so I have great affection for the carriers who keep the nation’s mail running.

When nothing came in the mail the next day, I went back to the post office and spoke with one of the front desk clerks. They all know me there — by sight, if not by name — because I prefer buying stamps from human beings than vending machines. The clerk looked in the back, and found nothing. He told me that the route had changed, and Cease was no longer my carrier. The best thing to do, he said, was to talk to the new carrier about my missing mail.

So I started listening for the sound of the mailboxes opening each day. One day, I heard the metal rattle, and raced down to catch the new mailman. He told me he wasn’t the new carrier, just a substitute from another station who was helping out on the expanded route.

Over the next week, I became obsessed with meeting my new carrier. Driving home one day, I spotted a mail truck parked a few blocks west of our building. I got out, walked down the street and talked to the carrier a few doors down.

He said no, he wasn’t the new guy, either. He explained that due to budget cuts, the route I was on had expanded. “They cobbled together territories, and now the route’s too big,” he said. “There have been a ton of complaints about mail being late. I’m surprised your bills haven’t come by now. Usually, if it’s delivered to the wrong address, someone will send it back to the post office for re-delivery.”

At that point, I called all the folks I owe money to every month and asked them to resend the bills. The woman at American Express said, “Yup. Been there. Same thing happened to me last month.” The woman at Bank of America said, “You’d be surprised how often bank statements are lost in the mail. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

I asked those who owed me money to stop payment on the previous checks, and reissue new payments. After talking to neighbors, who also complained about delivery issues since our route change, I decided to ask Santa’s elves for the scoop.

“First class mail’s been the backbone of what pays for our service,” said Greg Frey, public relations representative for USPS, national headquarters. “We’ve had several years of problems from a severe recession, and consumer behavior has changed with the increased use of online bill paying and e-mail. We’ve had to reduce our operations in every way.”

Frey said that by law, USPS must visit every house or business six days a week. While the workforce has decreased, each carrier must stop at more addresses, even if there’s less mail to deliver, which I’m sure does not make Santa happy.

“We’re between $12 billion to $15 billion in the hole currently, and have cut more than 100,000 employees in the last three years,” Frey said. “We’re trying to continue our services and maintain standards. We may be a government organization, but we receive no taxpayer money. While McDonald’s can close a store if there are no customers, we can’t. We’re not asking for a bailout, just help from Congress to fix the financial issues.”

So if you’re missing any of your mail, call the Postal Service (800-275-8777) or e-mail them online at usps.com/customerservice.

A bit of trivia — the longest route in the nation is in Gridley, Kansas, with 182 miles and 258 deliveries. The shortest is in Henderson, Nevada, at 2.9 miles with 952 deliveries. In my Los Angeles neighborhood, there are 16,089 deliveries and 26 carrier routes, averaging about 618 deliveries per route. It’s a wonder more mail doesn’t get lost.

“Our delivery employees are professionals and adjust quickly to the new routes and environments, but there are sometimes delays associated with adjusting routes,” said Richard Maher, Los Angeles spokesperson for USPS. “If you receive someone else’s mail or do not get your mail, it’s important to let us know so that we can address the issue with your letter carrier.”

I still haven’t met my new carrier. I spotted a mail truck across the street yesterday, and walked down the street in search of its driver. When I caught up with him, he said no, he wasn’t the new carrier. “I’m helping out from another station until they figure out what to do with this route,” he said. “If it keeps going like this, you may not get a regular carrier again.”

Please don’t say that. Lobby Congress to cut mail delivery to five days a week. Add a penny to the Forever stamp. Just don’t take away my Santa Claus.


1 Comment »

  1. Terry J. H. said,

    Ms. Eng,
    Cutting delivery to 5 days a week may slightly cut USPS’ expenses, but it will not improve service.
    There are 10 weeks a year currently which are 5 day delivery weeks because of holidays- how is the service to you then?
    When there are 42 5day and 10 4 day delivery weeks, it will be worse.
    I hope that you have been receiving better service since you posted this.

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