Regulators to review USPS plans to cut rural post office hou

Regulators to review USPS plans to cut rural post office hours
Monday, June 4th, 2012
US regulators are calling for public evidence regarding the US Postal Service’s plans to dramatically cut back on operating hours in rural post offices.

USPS decided last month to abandon plans to close 3,700 under-used rural post offices, after an outcry from rural communities.

Instead, to save around half a billion dollars on operating costs the Postal Service adopted a plan to cut the daily opening hours for under-used post offices from eight hours to as little as two hours per day.

Around 9,000 of America’s 32,000 post offices would have their operating windows significantly shortened by 2014, under the so-called POStPan, although 17,728 post offices are having their operations reviewed.

Today, the Postal Regulatory Commission said USPS had now filed its proposals and since they are likely to have a nationwide impact on service, an Advisory Opinion will now be produced, with public hearings potentially taking place in July.

PRC vice chairman Nanci Langley, presiding officer for the process, said all interested persons would get the chance to contribute to the review.

“At the same time, the Postal Service has said it would like to be able to begin to implement its plan in September, and the Commission will conduct a timely review with this in mind,” Langley pledged.

The public is being urged to provide comments via the online customer service form at prc.gov. An alternative offered for curtailing opening hours is to close a facility completely and ensure a nearby post office keeps its full eight-hours each day.

Reclassified post offices

In its plans submitted to the Commission, the USPS said it expected 4,561 post offices of the 17,728 being reviewed will see no changes to operating hours. They could also see an upgraded status with postmasters given a 2% pay increase, potentially to oversee operations at smaller post offices nearby as Administrative Post Offices (APOs).

Others that do undergo changes will be reclassified as Remotely Managed Post Offices (RMPOs) or Part-Time Post Offices (PTPOs), with part of the savings that look set to be achieved will be in using non-career employees to run some of the rural facilities.

Together, the post offices in the review cost about $1.1bn to run at present each year, and bring in about $1.3bn in revenue, much of which comes from the larger post offices that are being upgraded into APOs.

Some commentators have suggested one aspect of the USPS proposals that is likely to be picked up on in the Commission’s review is the impact of the reduced opening hours on revenue generated by the post offices.

Professor Steve Hutkins, who runs the Save the Post Office campaign blog that has argued against curtailing rural access to post offices, said that at present, the USPS submission to the regulator “implies that revenues will be the same even after hours are reduced”.

“Nowhere in the Request for an Advisory Opinion or (USPS witness Jeffrey Day)’s testimony is there a discussion of how much revenue may be lost due to POStPlan, or even an acknowledgement that some might go away,” Hutkins stated, adding that by his calculations, the post offices that seem likely to have their hours of operations reduced currently generate $600m in revenue.

“If reducing their hours by 30% led to a 30% drop in revenue, a huge portion of that $500m in savings could simply vanish,” he warned.

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