The US Postal Service has officially laid out how its network of thousands of rural post offices will look by 2014, as it acts to reduce operating hours in order to cut costs.
The Postal Service published a Final Rule in the Federal Register yesterday that provided definitions for as many as 13,000 new-style post offices.
These will include central “administrative post offices” (APOs) that will oversee clusters of part-time “remotely-managed post offices” (RMPOs) around them. RMPOs would have operating windows reduced to two, four or six hours per day.
In areas where the APO-RMPO cluster model is not feasible, there will also be stand-alone “part-time post offices” that will have hours reduced to around six hours a day, but will not report to an APO, but to a USPS district office.
The Final Rule also states that the new-style rural post offices can be run by USPS employees who are not postmasters, if they are reporting to a postmaster.
USPS spokesperson Sue Brennan told Post&Parcel today that the process of notifying rural communities about the changes to the post office network would begin soon.
But, while the Final Rule in the Federal Register also makes changes to the discontinuance process for closing post offices, she insisted that the reorganisation of the network – called the POStPlan – is about reducing hours in rural post offices, rather than closing them.
Brennan said the changes to the discontinuance process as stated within the Final Rule were merely about altering the terminology used in the light of the new definitions of RMPOs and PTPOs, and revisions to post office classification categories.
US consumers have made 350m fewer visits to their local post office since 2005, with USPS stating that while it costs on average $114,000 a year to keep a rural post office open, some of them bring in as little as $15,000 a year in sales.
USPS believes its POStPlan could save $500m a year in operating costs.
Its network has around 26,700 locations designated as post offices – rather than stations, branches or contractor-run units.
Last year it suggested closing 3,700 of its least profitable post offices as part of efforts to cut its multi-billion dollar annual losses. However, with high-profile political objections to the idea of reducing rural access to postal services in this way, in May the Postal Service announced its decision to reduce operating hours at rural post offices instead of closing them.
The Postal Service has been reviewing more than 17,000 of its post offices to identify those with least amount of customer footfall, which could now see operating hours reduced.
Following the review, around 4,500 post offices are likely to be busy enough to keep their eight-hour operating windows each day, with around 9,000 seeing their hours significantly shortened.
The details of the POStPlan are currently being reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission, with an Advisory Opinion expected around 23rd August. A phased implementation of the changes will then begin, starting with community notification.
As it reduces the operating times at post offices and turns thousands over to be run by non-postmasters, the Postal Service is aiming to reduce the number of its postmasters by offering buyouts to 21,000.
Yesterday USPS confirmed to US media that around 4,100 postmasters have now accepted its offer of a $20,000 early retirement incentive, with 3,800 of those leaving by the end of July and another few hundred set to leave by the end of September.
Source: Post&Parcel/Federal Register/USPS