Tuesday, January 18, 2011
What's Going to Happen When the Post Office Dies?
I understand that for most government agencies that face private competition (like schools) the private companies can skim the most lucrative and easy to handle business and leave the government with the more expensive and difficult business. Private schools don't have to take every student, and you know that parents who pay for their kids' education are going to take more interest in their kids' schooling. Fedex and UPS have taken the high end quick delivery business and left the post office with expensive daily to your door delivery for everyone. So the post office can't use its express mail profits to help cover home delivery, because the others are taking much of that profit. And we end up with post offices with nobody behind the counter. But they really have to take care of customers and can't leave them waiting in line like this.
I thought about just shouting out so the people in the back could hear, "DOES ANYBODY WORK HERE?" Everyone else looked so accepting of this pitiful service. But when someone else came to the front (the only clerk was gone again) to talk to the person at the counter, I got out of line and went up to him, and more politely said, "Is there anyone back there who could help out? There are all these people in line (more had piled in behind me) and NO ONE is out front here. I just need to pick up mail and so do others." He said he was a carrier and on his way home, but he'd get the manager. Shortly thereafter a man came out, looked concerned, and asked for the people picking up mail. About five of us came over and I got out much faster.
But they shouldn't need customers telling them. They should have a way of sending someone up front when the line gets too long. Queueing theory is an old science and all the retail companies larger than 5 employees use it. It has formulas for when you need to send more people out to keep customer from waiting more than a predetermined 'acceptable' wait time.
We used to have good post office service in Alaska. But this was really pitiful. (OK, I know you Chicago readers wonder what I'm complaining about since they didn't throw out my mail, but we're used to better.)
Oh yeah. When the post office dies, UPS and Fedex will be able to raise their prices and speciality businesses may be willing to deliver regular envelopes, birthday cards, grandkids' paintings, love letters, etc. But the price will be like express mail. And people who live far away (Alaskans, are you listening? Ted is gone) might not get any kind of service. And Benjamin Franklin will roll over in his grave.
[UPDATE Feb. 3, 2011 - Here's a piece from NPR's Talk of the Nation on the joys of snail mail.]
Digital mail already does much of what the post office did and we will survive. And the gap between the haves and have nots will grow. I'm not sure what this will do to US businesses in competition with foreign businesses that still have government postal service. And we'll be a step closer to virtual and further from natural.
Queueing is also a great word to know if you play scrabble.