“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” is inscribed on the James Farley Post Office Building in New York City.
Perhaps its time to add “nor cluster boxes” to those words.
In an effort to save the bleeding-cash-as we speak operation money, the U.S. Postal Service, backed enthusiastically by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), has proposed to eliminate door-to-door mail delivery to homes in new housing developments. Instead, the USPS will use a central “cluster box” model.
First things first: anything that helps save money for the Postal Service is worth considering. The service has been losing money hand over fist for years, including a $16 billion loss in 2012. Delivery service models like FedEx (FDX) and United Parcel Service (UPS) have chipped away (if not cleaved away) business over the last 2-3 decades, and more recently the growth in email has cut into mail volume.
The fallout in the mail service ecosystem is broad, with the struggles of Pitney Bowes (PBI) its prime example. PBI stock is down 55% in the last five years and 62% in the last decade.
Earlier, this year the elimination of Saturday delivery was introduced as a cost-cutting measure, and … well, it went nowhere. Nobody could really pinpoint with any accuracy how much might be saved, and of course employees faced possible furloughs or layoffs.
So the Postal Service is back to square one on trying to find ways to save money, and this cluster box idea is one of the USPS proposals being considered.
Watching my mailman drive from mailbox to mailbox in the neighborhood, occasionally weaving his way around basketball hoops and parked cars seems to validate the idea. Providing mail carriers with one central repository for mail within a community or development will save gas money and time, and I guess that’s a start.
It might also save money on USPS staff that is needed as Post Office routes can be shortened. I suspect that won’t make the National Association of Letter Carriers particularly happy, however.
But can you get people to walk to a central location in their development to pick up the mail? Or will they complain loudly enough to doom the effort before it even gets off the ground?
I say get up off your duff and go to the cluster mailbox. We can complain all we want about the mail service and how stamp prices always seem to go up. So if the Postal Service can save millions of dollars on gas by delivering millions of items to one spot, it’s worth the try.
Cluster box delivery might not save it, but it’s certainly worth at least serious consideration.
Marc Bastow is an Assistant Editor at InvestorPlace.com. The opinions contained in this column are solely those of his own, and as of this writing he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.