WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans for generations have come to
depend on door-to-door mail delivery. It's about as American as apple pie.
But with the Postal Service facing billions of dollars in annual losses,
the delivery service could be virtually phased out by 2022 under a
proposal a House panel was considering Wednesday. Curbside delivery, which
includes deliveries to mailboxes at the end of driveways, and cluster box
delivery would replace letter carriers slipping mail into front-door
The proposal is part of broader legislation by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.,
chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, designed
to cut costs at the cash-strapped agency by up to $4.5 billion a year. The
Postal Service had a $16 billion loss last year.
The agency has been moving toward curbside and cluster box delivery in new
residential developments since the 1970s. The Postal Service in April
began deciding whether to provide such delivery for people moving into
newly built homes rather than letting the developers decide.
"A balanced approach to saving the Postal Service means allowing USPS to
adapt to America's changing use of mail," Issa said. "Done right, these
reforms can improve the customer experience through a more efficient
About one in three mail customers has door-to-door delivery, Issa said.
The shift would include safe and secure cluster box delivery areas, he
said, especially for elderly customers who receive Social Security checks
and prescriptions through the mail.
About 30 million residential addresses receive delivery to boxes at the
door or a mail slot. Another 87 million residential addresses receive
curbside or cluster box delivery.
The cost differences are clear. Curbside delivery costs average $224 per
year for each address, while cluster box delivery averages $160.
Door-to-door delivery costs the agency about $350 per year, on average.
Sue Brennan, a Postal Service spokeswoman, said, "While converting
delivery away from the door to curb or centralized delivery would allow
the Postal Service to deliver mail to more addresses in less time, doing
so is not included in our five-year plan."
Brennan said the agency's five-year plan does call for shifting 20 percent
of business address deliveries from door-to-door to curbside and cluster
box delivery through 2016.
Rep. Steve Lynch, D-Mass., said the plan to move some 30 million
residential addresses from to-the-door to curbside and cluster box service
would be virtually impossible in dense urban areas such as his hometown of
South Boston crowded with triple-deckers — three apartments stacked on top
of each other.
"You'd have to knock houses down in my neighborhood to build cluster
boxes," Lynch said. "This will not work."
It might work in places like Manhattan with big apartment buildings, he
"Look, there's no availability for cluster boxes in many communities
around the country," Lynch said.
Issa's plan allows for people with physical hardships to get waivers
allowing them to keep door delivery. There's also a provision giving
people the option to keep door delivery by paying a special fee to cover
the additional cost.
Issa's bill also allows the Postal Service to take into account factors
such as poverty rates and population density in deciding which areas would
be allowed to keep door delivery.
The financially beleaguered Postal Service, an independent agency, gets no
tax dollars for its day-to-day operations, but is subject to congressional
The Postal Service is pursuing a major restructuring throughout its
retail, delivery and mail processing operations. Since 2006, it has
reduced annual costs by about $15 billion, cut its workforce by 193,000 or
28 percent, and consolidated more than 200 mail-processing locations.
The service's losses are largely due to a decline in mail volume and a
congressional requirement that it make advance payments to cover expected
health care costs for future retirees. About $11.1 billion of last year's
losses were due to payments for future retiree health costs.
The volume of mail handled by the Postal Service has decreased steadily as
the popularity of email, Facebook and other electronic services has grown.
Total mail volume handled by the agency fell to 160 billion pieces last
year from its all-time high, 213.1 billion in 2006. Revenue fell to $65.2
billion last budget year, from a high of $74.9 billion in 2008.
The Postal Service is considering several options to fix its finances,
including negotiations with unions to reduce labor costs and another
possible increase in prices.
The service earlier this year backpedaled on its plan to end Saturday mail
delivery after running into opposition in Congress. It has tried
repeatedly and unsuccessfully over the past several years to persuade
Congress to approve ending Saturday mail delivery and to free the service
from the advance health payments.
The Senate last year passed a bill that would have stopped the Postal
Service from eliminating Saturday service for at least two years and
required it to try two years of aggressive cost cutting instead. The House
didn't pass a bill.