Fifty percent of South Dakota and North Dakota addresses are served by rural mail routes, and those households could stand to lose if the U.S. Postal Service eliminates Saturday mail delivery, rural mail carriers argued Wednesday.
"There are rural routes in South Dakota that are 150 to 170 miles long," said Gary Evenson, a rural mail carrier in Rapid City. "Without Saturday delivery, some customers would have to drive 30, 40 or 50 miles or more roundtrip to go to the post office."
The Postal Regulatory Commission, the independent federal agency that regulates the postal service, heard more than two hours of testimony Wednesday in Rapid City on the proposed change to five-day mail delivery. It was the sixth of seven public hearings being conducted nationwide, with previous stops in Las Vegas, Sacramento, Dallas, Memphis and Chicago.
The postal service has proposed the elimination of Saturday delivery in light of historic drops in the amount of mail being sent. Mail volume peaked in 2006 at 213 billion pieces; in 2009, it was 177 billion pieces. The postal service ended the 2009 fiscal year with a $3.8 billion loss.
Marie Therese Dominguez, vice president of government relations and public policy for the postal service, said eliminating Saturday mail delivery would save $3 billion annually. The proposal is one part of the larger Action Plan for the Future, Dominguez said, with other suggestions including a rate increase, internal cost-cutting and restructuring the postal service's pension system.
"We've known for a long time that our business model was broken," Dominguez said. "If we do absolutely nothing, if we make no efforts to cut costs, we're going to face a $238 billion deficit by 2020."
But local postal service employees and union representatives questioned why cutting service was the first choice, rather than the last resort.
Under the postal service's plan, which still requires congressional approval, post offices would not deliver mail to street addresses or collect mail dropped off in blue boxes on Saturdays. Post offices would still be open Saturday and mail addressed to post office boxes would be available, but all mail accepted at the retail counter would be processed Monday.
Robert Tolman, the South Dakota legislative chair for the National Association of Postal Supervisors, said the loss of Saturday mail would slow delivery speed and lead to less use, not more.
"We need a vibrant, service-oriented organization that serves our citizens, not one that is retracting service and removing itself from everyday American life," Tolman said.
Rural carriers also expressed concern about the job losses that would follow the elimination of Saturday mail delivery. Nationwide, 43,000 rural carrier associates deliver mail on rural routes on Saturdays, said Brad Duffy, president of the South Dakota Rural Letter Carriers Association and a rural mail carrier in Winner.
Farming and ranching is a seven-day-a-week job, Duffy said, and waiting on a part for a piece of equipment can mean lost money.
"If they order a part and it doesn't get there Friday, they have to wait till Monday," Duffy said.
Scott Engel, publisher of Tri-State Livestock News, said that publication and its customers rely on a Saturday publish and mail date.
"We offer the most timely sale data in the marketplace, and many of our readers rely on our paper to make their buy/sell decisions, oftentimes right on the heels of receiving the newspaper," Engel said.
Clem Felchle, manager of the Dakotas District for the U.S. Postal Service, said many rural mail carriers act as "post offices on wheels," selling stamps and accepting mail and packages for mailing.
And while that service would no longer be available on Saturdays under the postal service's proposal, rural mail customers would adjust if necessary, he said.
"When I lived in rural America, did I expect the same exact services I got living in a big city?" Felchle said. "You make those choices. The more remote you are, the fewer services you have."
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