Postal Service needs better plan

Guest Editorial
If you are married to the idea that the U.S. Postal Service can keep delivering mail the way it always has, it is time for a reality check. Painful change is on the way that will affect the speed and convenience that customers now expect. That is what happens when the digital age causes first-class mail volume to fall by one fifth in three years.

That said, postal officials are committing themselves to a cost-saving plan that does them no favors. Do you want your mail to go through Pontiac or Grand Rapids before it’s delivered? If mail delivery will no longer be timely or reliable, will you even bother?

Those are logical questions now that the Postal Service is looking to close about half of its mail processing centers nationwide, including those in Jackson and Lansing. Officials concede that they would almost never be able to deliver first-class mail overnight. The whole delivery chain would slow down.

There should be no arguing with the need for change. If there is less mail, there ought to be fewer facilities to handle it. At the same time, the Postal Service is going about this in all the wrong way.

There are far better options to cut expenses within the postal system. Start by closing neighborhood branches, writing better labor contracts and cutting a day of mail delivery.

Postal officials already are working to close 3,700 branches nationally. That is not enough. There are some 31,000 postal locations in the U.S., and clearly more can be shuttered. Residents might complain, but they will have other options such as using other branches or letting the carrier pick up their mail at home.

As the Los Angeles Times pointed out in an editorial last week, the Postal Service’s labor contracts contain provisions that tie officials’ hands. There are prohibitions on layoffs and a common pay schedule that does not take into account cost of living in various parts of the country.

Last, the time has probably come for five-day mail delivery. The current schedule of Monday through Saturday is convenient but can be sacrificed for the sake of cost savings. This requires authorization from Congress, which could be sticky as elected officials try to please voters. Still, they need to give this agency the tools to innovate and be run efficiently.

The Postal Service has options to work itself back to profitability — and sustainability for a world in which people no longer need to communicate exclusively through mail.

However, it is not preparing itself for that future with plans like these to close processing centers. The people its needs to please the most — its customers — will be left to take their business elsewhere.