Government Agencies

Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman: New Mail Schedule Raises Eyebrows

Lauren Sullivan

The United States Postal Service says Americans have already voted with their wallets about the decision to cut delivery of first-class mail on Saturdays: Package deliveries are up, but letter volume has dropped off a cliff, a victim of our growing reliance on e-mail and social media.

But you wouldn't know that from the reaction of customers at a Manhattan post office Wednesday. Whether because they perceive the new delivery schedule to be an inconvenience or because they feel like they've lost another vital service during tough economic times, people still want their Saturday mail.

For Hela Borer, who dropped by a USPS branch on the Upper West Side shortly after the news broke, the move is a raw deal for Americans who work long or unusual shifts on weekdays. Borer, who didn't specify what she did for a living but said she works "crazy hours" Monday through Friday, argued she has little opportunity to send or read letters before the end of the business week.

"I never get a chance to look over my mail," Borer said. "If they don't deliver on Saturday, they just lost one customer."

A totally unscientific online poll by NBC News shows something different, however. About 62 percent of respondents say they could not care less if the postman showed up at their mailbox on Saturday. E-mails and Facebook messages don't take a day off, after all.

Even though Borer can use Saturdays to sort through mail that's accumulated over the previous five days, the new delivery schedule irks her.

Isaac Pontier said the new plan is a major inconvenience for people who look forward to snail mail correspondence during weekends, no matter the pervasiveness of digital communication tools.

"It's just not OK. It's just not fair for people like me," Pontier said. "The weekends are the only days I have off!"

Patrick R. Donahoe, postmaster general and CEO, said at a Wednesday morning news conference that the agency will continue to deliver packages, mail-order medicine and express mail on Saturdays. But letters, bills, cards and catalogs won't get to their recipients until Monday.

"The Postal Service is advancing an important new approach to delivery that reflects the strong growth of our package business and responds to the financial realities resulting from America's changing mailing habits," Donahoe said at the conference.

The cost-cutting move is slated to save the cash-strapped agency $2 billion a year.

Savings or not, Sharon Lynch said she was "incredibly disappointed" with the new delivery policy, which is scheduled to take effect in August.

"Every time I come to use the post office, I hear they're taking away a service," Lynch said at New York City's historic James Farley Post Office.

Tamiko Bell-Bacchus, 37, struck a more mournful note on her way out of the city landmark.

"Everyone grows up with mail delivery. It's so commonplace," Bell-Bacchus said. "But I guess now that most people use e-mail and everything is electronic, the post office has become the dinosaur of our age."

The whole argument may be moot, though, if Congress doesn't agree to the change. It's not clear whether the USPS can unilaterally change its delivery schedule. Donahoe said he feels that the agency, which is independent but overseen by Congress, can get lawmakers to approve the changes.

"We think we are on good footing with this," he said.