Nationwide, about 218,000 of the blue boxes have vanished from streets in the nation’s cities and towns since 1985, dwindling down to just under 177,000 today.
And they’re expected to continue to disappear as mail volumes drop precipitously, said Joseph Breckenridge, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service.
Collection boxes are being removed because they don’t collect enough mail pieces daily to justify a postal employee making daily stops to collect their contents, Breckenridge said.
They’re removed if they don’t collect enough mail. The boxes used to be found on street corners in residential areas, but now they’re found only in business districts, he noted.
“There are a lot of boxes out there that don’t get 25 pieces a day,” he said. “Some get less. We’re taking them out when they’re no longer used. With reluctance, we have to remove them.”
One of the reasons for that, he said, is the increased popularity of online bill paying. More people are opting to enter their checking account information for automatic account debiting rather than going to the effort of writing a check, buying a stamp, writing their return address on an envelope and dropping it in the mail. Additionally, instantly transmitted e-mail and text correspondence have conspired to relegate the art of the written letter to history’s dustbin.
Since 2001, single-piece first-class mail – envelope-sized pieces like bill payments and letters – has dropped by 12 billion pieces to 1964 levels, he said.
The bulk of the mail volume losses has been sudden, he said. Volumes hit a peak of 213 billion pieces in 2006 and then took a sharp downward turn, declining by 9.5 billion pieces in 2008, a projected loss this year of about 20 billion pieces and an expected loss in 2010 of another 10 billion to an annual total of about 170 billion pieces.
The Postal Service experienced the largest one-year drop-off in mail volume in its 234-year history, the Washington Post reported.