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Empire editorial: Slower than a speeding snail...

Posted: December 6, 2011 - 1:00am

When a business finds itself behind the times the best strategy is to adapt and improve, whether that means making cars that use less fuel or making juice drinks without extra calories.

The U.S. Postal Service is going full speed in the other direction in a race to overtake the dinosaurs in the extinction department.

It’s time for someone with some business acumen to take over the controls, because that production line is building Edsels in a Prius world.

The big plan to save the hopelessly out-of-date Postal Service is to slow down mail service, shut down a lot of mail processing centers and send 30,000 more people to the unemployment lines.

Yes, in the age of instant communication the plan is to make it virtually a guarantee than no first-class letter will arrive anywhere in just one day. So first class will really become more second class. Will parcel post mean “order your holiday present in July to allow for shipping?”

The postal managers have failed in just about every way to keep their service relevant and useful at a time when bills are often paid electronically and animated e-cards and e-vites often stand in for a postage-stamped paper card.

Here in Alaska we have a special stake in this intentional shredding of service levels. Several of our post offices are still on the chopping block, and the U.S. Mail is a vital service to remote and off-road communities.

Our D.C. delegation has done a heroic job standing up to attempts to make Alaska pay for bypass mail service, and fighting to keep open post offices, including the one in Douglas still slated for closure. We’re sure they will also take notice of the plan to downgrade first class mail service.

In rural Alaska there are not a lot of options for shipping, and paying bills for many still means buying stamps. Internet service can be spotty, and UPS and FedEx don’t have delivery drop boxes in some remote locations. The post office is a hub for many communities, and people don’t take the mail for granted — many get their medicines and vital supplies via mail shipped in by truck and/or plane.

Planes are the only option for some villages.

First class postage should remain first class, and the managers need to get creative about the products they offer. Express mail boxes with set fees for delivery were a good step on this road, and that service at least seems to have been successfully marketed.

If the plan is to provide less service at higher postage rates, and they always seem to climb, postal managers should start drawing up plans for the eventual shuttering the entire system, and rural Alaskans should brace for some interesting times and mail their bills and letters well in advance of any deadlines.

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