The Vanishing Mail Box


If you have been having trouble finding a nearby mailbox, here is why:

Across the country, stalwart blue “collection boxes” … are disappearing. In the past 20 years, 200,000 mailboxes have vanished from city streets, rural routes and suburban neighborhoods — more than the 175,000 that remain. …

[…]Although some communities have mounted protests — angry customers in one Maine town planted a snowplow and backhoe in front of a threatened mailbox — the vanishing boxes are only the most visible sign that something fundamental is changing in the way Americans communicate. The boxes are disappearing because most of us, unlike the Yankaniches, no longer use the mail as we used to.

The U.S. Postal Service says it removes “underperforming” mailboxes — those that collect fewer than 25 pieces of mail a day — after a week-long “density test.” Snail mail is a dying enterprise because Americans increasingly pay bills online, send Evites for parties and text or give a quick call on a cellphone rather than write a letter.

Combine the impact of new technologies with the gut punch of the recession, and in the past year alone, the Postal Service has seen the single largest drop-off in mail volume in its 234-year history, greater even than the decline from 1929 to 1933 during the Great Depression. That downward trend is only accelerating. The Postal Service projects a decline of about 10 billion pieces of mail in each of the next two years, going from a high of 213 billion pieces of mail in 2006 to 170 billion projected for 2010.

The situation is so dire that the Postal Service, which is projecting a $6 billion shortfall by the end of September despite a recent postage rate increase, will go to Congress this month to seek emergency relief, looking to cut home mail delivery from six days a week to five. Already, the Postal Service has cut hours at hundreds of post offices across the country, including 56 of the Washington area’s 386 outlets. It has consolidated routes, dropping 158 delivery routes locally, offered workers early retirement and imposed hiring and salary freezes. Still, said Postmaster General John E. Potter, the service is in “acute financial crisis.”

“We’re like air,” said Postal Service spokeswoman Deborah Yackley. “People just take it for granted that we’re always going to be there. Well, if you want to keep your collection box, would you mail a letter, please!”

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Explore posts in the same categories: Domestic Issues, Economy, Society

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