US regulators back USPS plan to cut rural post office hours

US regulators have said the Postal Service’s plan to reduce working hours at thousands of rural post offices is a “significant improvement” over previous plans to shut 3,700 post offices. However, the Commission’s Chairman, Ruth Goldway, expressed concerns that in cutting post office hours to as little as two hours per day, the Postal Service could find it difficult to find qualified staff willing to work such short hours.

The Postal Regulatory Commission has been reviewing the USPS plans to save around half a billion dollars a year from the operation of its retail network since May 2012.

The so-called “POStPlan” will see operating hours for postal counters curtailed at more than 13,000 rural post offices, with post offices finding their working day cut from eight hours to six, four or two hours of operation each day.

Operating hours in about 73 post offices will have their hours extended.

The Commission issued its Advisory Opinion today commending the Postal Service “for maintaining its current retail presence, especially in remote areas”.

The regulator said evidence gathered in its review had assured it that post offices will provide the same services as they do today, access to PO boxes will remain unchanged, and that post offices in the most remote locations will remain open at least six hours per work day.

The Advisory Opinion said post offices will not generally be closed unless a community expresses a preference for such action, predicting that “a few” post offices will close as a result of POStPlan.

The review from the Commission recommended that USPS not make any cuts in post office hours until post offices have been modified to allow continuation of current levels of access for PO boxes.

It also made certain recommendations on communicating post office changes and the decision-making process.

Concerns

Commission Chairman Ruth Goldway said in a personal opinion statement backing the overall Commission findings that USPS had developed a plan that “accommodates many of the concerns” put forward by previous regulatory reviews of post office network changes.

However, she said she had several remaining concerns about POStPlan, including the analysis used to determine which post offices should become Part Time Post Offices (PTPO).

Goldway also expressed concerns about how communities are informed about the possibility of replacing a post office with a Village Post Office – partner-run postal outlets located in local retail facilities. She said there were “troubling” discrepancies in USPS literature about VPOs, and insisted that communities are fully informed that choosing a VPO instead of a post office would mean a more limited range of services being provided.

The Commission Chairman’s other concerns included the ability of USPS to find staff to run post offices for less than eight hours each day.

“There is a sizable risk that the Postal Service will encounter difficulties recruiting qualified employees for these positions in many communities,” she said.

USPS originally reviewed 17,700 of its 32,000 post offices to find under-performing post offices where working hours could be curtailed.

From 2014, the Postal Service plans to review its retail network each year to check its post offices are classified to the right levels, and could make changes to their operating hours.

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