Our view: End coming to Saturday mail delivery

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” according to the unofficial motto of U.S. mail carriers.

The motto offers no advice about what to do when mail volume declines precipitously.

The U.S. Postal Service has been confronted with that situation.

Electronic mail and electronic payment of bills has contributed to a 50 percent reduction in first-class mail volume in the past decade, according to the Postal Service.

With fewer people mailing letters, postal officials have struggled to reduce costs in a nationwide delivery and service network that extends from big cities to nearly every village and hamlet in the land.

In 2011, it appeared the Postal Service planned to shut down post offices in hundreds of communities, including in McHenry County.

That idea was roundly criticized.

The Postal Service reconsidered.

Earlier this month, a new cost-cutting plan was announced. The Postal Service, starting in August, plans to halt Saturday mail service. The move is expected to save $2 billion a year. In addition, hours at some small post offices will be scaled back.

The decision was inevitable. The Postal Service cannot continue to operate with annual deficits, and must continue to seek efficiencies and change with the times.

The decision to end Saturday delivery, while a common-sense adjustment that appears to preserve small-town post offices for the time being, is not without its critics. Some are in Congress.

At a hearing last week in Washington, several U.S. senators charged that the decision to end Saturday delivery is against a 2012 law that, they say, requires six-day delivery.

Representatives of unions that represent city and rural mail carriers are not pleased with reductions that affect their members. Since 2006, the Postal Service has reduced its workforce by 193,000.

Some senators spoke of the need to help the Postal Service scale back on the massive project to pre-fund retiree health benefits that is under way. Estimates are that one-fifth of all Postal Service revenue goes toward health care costs.

Without changes in its business model and health care obligations, according to testimony at the hearing, the Postal Service would face a $45 billion debt in four years.

The Postal Service obviously needs to continue efforts to streamline its operations to adjust to 21st-century realities. Its customers certainly realize that. So should its critics.

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