Mail customers are generally willing to accept lower levels of service such as ending six-day mail delivery to keep the U.S. Postal Service operating — and especially so if they are aware that the agency does not draw on tax revenue — a study by the USPS inspector general has found.
In a study involving focus groups, two-thirds of the participants did not know that the agency is self-funding, a finding that reflected results of an earlier Web-based survey. Once the funding arrangement was explained — “a revelation that was met with surprise within every group,” the report, released Tuesday, says — participants “lowered their service level expectations.”
At that point, “the common thought was that the Postal Service must operate like a business; it must find a way to be profitable,” it says. In particular, “the vast majority of focus group participants viewed six-day delivery as a luxury that could be reduced if the Postal Service needs to cut costs to remain financially viable” and most “said they would actually require even fewer than five days per week.”
Similarly, participants were generally willing to give up door-to-door delivery and get their mail at cluster boxes “if the boxes were relatively convenient, saved the Postal Service money, and ensured security.”
“Educating citizens on the self-funded nature of the Postal Service and the challenges it faces could help garner citizens’ support for cost-saving initiatives,” the report says, adding that “there was a consensus that the Postal Service must carry on,” with almost all participants saying they would be negatively affected if it ceased to exist.
The focus groups involved 101 persons and were designed to be representative of the general population in characteristics, such as age, gender, access to the Internet, and rural, urban or suburban residence.
The participants expressed some differences of opinions about the financially strapped Postal Service that have contributed to long-running struggles to move a postal restructuring plan through Congress. For example, participants in rural areas put higher value on a post office as a community asset, while urban participants placed a higher importance on the convenience of accessing postal services. Even on the issue of ending six-day delivery where there was broad agreement, there were disagreements regarding the number of delivery days needed and which days to eliminate.
A Senate committee recently approved a bill that among other steps would allow the Postal Service to eliminate Saturday mail delivery if mail volume drops below 140 billion pieces annually — which has been projected to happen in 2017 or 2018. In contrast, a bill cleared by a House committee last year would allow five-day mail delivery to begin immediately after enactment.
The focus groups also touched on several other ideas that have been raised in postal restructuring proposals, including reaching for new revenue by offering governmental or other new products or services at post offices. The participants were open to the idea but generally did not envision themselves using such services, the report said. They also “found it difficult to imagine digital services and accordingly did not think it appropriate for the Postal Service to provide them.”
The study further found concerns, especially among those in rural areas, about proposals to have mail handled at retail establishments such as a grocery stores or pharmacies rather than at traditional post offices.