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PD Editorial: Delivering some relief to postal budget

  • (MIKE SMITH / Las Vegas Sun)

Today, in Sonoma County and across the country, postal carriers will make their rounds, walking and driving thousands of miles to deliver magazines, packages, bills, solicitations, even a few letters.

Six months from now, with or without congressional approval, the U.S. Postal Service says it will stop Saturday mail deliveries.

They will be missed, just as milk delivered to the doorstep and 50-cent gasoline are missed.

But times change, and the Postal Service must change to keep up with the times — and to stay in business.

Congress, customers and postal employee unions can stand in the way of change, but they can't hide the staggering losses that threaten the Postal Service, an agency older than the United States itself, with insolvency.

Since 2007, first-class mail volume has declined by 37 percent reflecting a shift from mailing checks to paying bills online and from letters to email and text messages. Despite regular rate increases, postal revenue has fallen 13 percent, and even aggressive cost-cutting hasn't been enough to make up the difference.

The Postal Service lost almost $30 billion over the past three years. Last fall, it defaulted on an $11.1 billion loan, and it's presently losing money at a rate of $25 million a day, with annual losses projected to reach $20 billion by 2016.

Working out this mess will take a lot more than ending Saturday mail delivery.

Still, it's a first step, offering savings up to $3 billion a year in fuel and staffing costs.

It also serves a larger goal: Maintaining universal mail delivery.

Overnight delivery and broadband Internet service have yet to reach many far-flung corners of America. With few people and long distances to major population centers, rural areas are of little interest to many private companies.

For small towns and other lightly populated areas, snail mail remains a vital link to the rest of the world.

It needs to be protected, but there's plenty of places to save money if the Postal Service can get past its major barriers — customers who want more services but object to higher rates and employees who hang on to excessive benefits including protection from layoffs.

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