U.S. Postal Service may put an end to Saturday deliveries

March 3rd, 2010 by

www.myfoxtampabay.com – Each Saturday, actor Robert Lyons heads to his community post office in Burbank to riffle through his mail for residual checks from such movies as “Shoot Out,” the 1971 film he made with Gregory Peck.

Now under a proposal released Tuesday by the U.S. Postal Service, not only would Lyons have to wait until Monday for his checks, he’d also have to pay more to send out the head shots he mails in search of work.

“C’mon, I object to it,” Lyons said Tuesday while dropping off mail and checking his P.O. box at the Magnolia Avenue station in Burbank. “Are you kidding? I get residuals from 45 years ago.

“I look for them on Saturday, and every day.”

The Postal Service is renewing its drive to end Saturday delivery in effort to fend off a projected $7 billion loss this year. It also suggested closing underutilized post offices and imposing another rate hike.

Without drastic action, the agency could face a cumulative loss of $238 billion over 10 years, Postmaster General John Potter said in releasing a series of consultant reports on agency operations and outlook.

“The projections going forward are not bright,” Potter told reporters in a briefing in Washington, D.C. But, he added, “all is not lost … we can right this ship.”

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate subcommittee with oversight authority over the Postal Service, called on Congress to give the post office the flexibility to deal with its future needs.

And Frederic V. Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, also urged Congress to provide the post office with “financial breathing room,” but he opposed eliminating one day of delivery.

There are a number of elements to factor in to any decision.

With the boom in e-mail, the number of items handled by the Postal Service fell from 213 billion in 2006 to 177 billion last year. Volume is expected to shrink to 150 billion by 2020.

At the same time, the type of material sent is shifting from first-class mail to the less lucrative standard mail, such as advertising. Still, the number of places mail must be delivered is on the rise as people set up new homes and businesses.

Potter said he would like to see mail delivery cut to five days a week starting next year, although that does not mean post offices would close that day.

While suggestions to close local post offices always draw complaints, Potter said the current system could be improved by opening more postal counters in places like convenience stores and supermarkets.

High cost of retirees

The average post office has 600 patrons a week, Potter said, while the average supermarket brings in 20,000 people each week and is open longer hours and more days.

Only after such new facilities were available would a local post office close, he said.

Another possibility would be to ask Congress for a subsidy, but noting the current financial conditions Potter said “we do not plan to pursue that.” The post office has not received taxpayer subsidies for its operations since the early 1980s.

A major problem for the agency is a new requirement for an annual payment of $5.5 billion to prepay expected medical benefits for retirees. Most businesses handle that cost on a pay-as-you-go basis and Potter said he is seeking congressional approval for the post office to go back to that standard.

The postal service continues to weigh the closure of 162 post offices nationwide, including 23 in California. Two of those are in Los Angeles, but none are located in the San Fernando Valley.

The list, however, doesn’t include minor post offices, such as the Magnolia Station, which postal officials say are under review for closure.

If approved for closure, the small Burbank community post office could lock its doors, its customers subsumed by the Hollywood Way post office located a mile or so away.

`A whole 1950s neighborhood’

On Tuesday, customers such as Lyons objected to the loss of the tiny Burbank post office, where three clerks addressed many of the patrons by name.

“It’s convenient,” said Lyons, who has traipsed over to the sidewalk post office on a small block of sandwich shops, drug stores, copy centers and other businesses each week for 20 years. “The clerks are terrific. … We’ve got a whole 1950s neighborhood.”

“This is it,” added Olivia Garcia, of Burbank, who quickly breezed through the line. “This is the last small-town post office. This is more personal here.”

Other customers, however, said they wouldn’t mind eliminating Saturday deliveries. And they didn’t so much mind the price increases, either, as they pay most of their bills online.

Postal workers said many of their colleagues are anxious about possible cuts in hours and benefits. Though some may be willing to take early retirement offers, they said there are no golden parachutes or buyouts on the table.

“The old-timers, that’s what they started out with – no-Saturday deliveries … rain, snow, hail, floods or sunshine,” said Robert Mejia, a 20-year mail carrier working his Burbank route.

“(But) it definitely affects the customers. I have some businesses, they don’t like the idea. They’re used to getting mail every day.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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