Reasonable expectations

Lots of us pop greeting cards into the mailbox this time of year. But outside of December, how often do you use the Postal Service to get a message where you want it to go?

And how often do you hit a button to send an e-mail?

There's the basic difficulty the U.S. Postal Service faces as it dutifully carries out its appointed rounds: Most of us hit the "send" button regularly and make the trip to the mailbox only when it seems easier or safer. We don't need the Postal Service nearly as much as we once did.

The lack of need is driving the organization's $3.8 billion shortfall in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 as fewer people use the once-essential mail to communicate. Although Postal Service officials would like to attribute at least some of the falling business to the shaky economy, it's clear a more basic change is at play as well.

That change now looks likely to affect Southern Oregon, as the Postal Service acknowledged this month that it is considering selling either the Medford or Central Point post office buildings to save money. A spokesman said this week that it will keep a post office open in both cities, maybe just not in the buildings where they are now. It's saying — at this point, anyway — that it will keep its employees here at work as well and will continue to offer all its services.

But the conversation raises real questions about what the nation — and the Rogue Valley — reasonably can expect from this organization. We've changed the way we communicate, and so the Postal Service's approach to doing business has to change, and significantly.

Today the service operates some two-dozen places in Jackson and Josephine counties where residents can go to do post office business. Despite the staggering shortfalls it faces, it has not sought — yet — to do away with any of them.

It delivers an estimated 660 million pieces of mail daily to an estimated 142 million places, a list that grows as new homes are built even as the average amount of mail that goes into each box falls.

Medford and Central Point post office customers interviewed for a recent Mail Tribune story on the topic didn't want any services to go away — in fact, they'd like more. But we'd bet they also wouldn't want to pay more for stamps or to see any new tax money devoted to the service.

Tough choices are ahead, and for those of us who use the Postal Service the result will probably be at least as irritating as standing in one of those long lines to mail a Christmas package.

But changing times call for a changing postal service. The bureaucracy and customers both will have to adjust.

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