Retired professor questions USPS cost-cutting moves
By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent
For most of his academic career at New York University, Steve Hutkins was an English professor who dealt with Greek and Renaissance classics and what he calls “a range of literatures.”
But in 2011, Hutkins’ interests changed after the United States Postal Service threatened to close thousands of post offices.
The former NYU associate professor turned his interests to postal issues and created Save the Post Office (savethepostoffice.com), a website to rally support for postal facilities.
When Postmaster General Louis DeJoy launched his Delivering for America plan to rescue the USPS from its continuing financial woes, Hutkins once again joined the debate.
With the help of color-coded maps on his website, he is raising questions about DeJoy’s plan to revamp mail delivery standards and decrease the use of air carriers, which now carry “approximately 21 percent of first class mail,” according to the website.
In a filing with the Postal Regulatory Commission, Hutkins is suggesting that the new service standards and DeJoy’s plan to reduce air transport to roughly 12 percent of first-class mail will hit some parts of the country harder than others.
The West is heavily dependent on airmail, he said.
“Would the service standards be unfair to some people just because of where they lived?” he asked in a paper submitted to the commission.
Maps Hutkins has prepared and posted on his website seem to say yes.
Sectional center mail facilities (SCFs) located in the middle of the country have a much smaller area for letters that will fall under the new slower first-class delivery standard than for mail coming from sectional centers along the coasts, he said.
The current delivery standard for domestic letters is three days, a goal that DeJoy has said the USPS has consistently failed to meet.
DeJoy’s plan would remove the current three-day delivery requirement for domestic mail and allow a fourth and fifth day for delivery to be considered on time.
Mail from the Chicago SCF will face “a relatively small” area of four-day to five-day mail, Hutkins said. But for the SCF in Washington, D.C., the area for four-day to five-day letters is vast, described by Hutkins as “most of the West.”
For SCFs in the West, the new four-day to five-day delivery requirement “encompasses almost the entire country,” Hutkins said.
He also said that under DeJoy’s plan “average delivery times will increase to approximately 3 days,” compared to the current national delivery time, which is two and a half days.
The slower delivery times currently are mostly in the West and South, he said.
Hutkins predicted that the gaps between regions will “become more pronounced” under the new plan.
Asked about Hutkins’ claims at a June 8 Zoom meeting on new standards for first-class packages, postal officials dodged a direct response, saying the retired professor was involved in a Postal Regulatory Commission proceeding.
In a May 26 filing with the Postal Regulatory Commission, the Postal Service rebutted Hutkins’ concerns, arguing that the DeJoy plan would give mailers increased reliability and value by establishing delivery times that the agency can meet.
The Postal Service told the PRC that it “has shown how, given current operational, volume, and financial realities, it is appropriate to revise the service standards using objective criteria to enable more volume to move by surface transportation.”
The changes “will lead to greater service reliability, and will assist the Postal Service in its efforts to create a more precise, resilient, financially sustainable network,” the USPS said.
Under current standards. the USPS relies too heavily on air transportation, it said.
“These (air) carriers are subject to last-minute changes based upon weather delays, network congestion, and air traffic control ground stops,” the agency said.
“The addition of one or two days to current service standards for First-Class Mail would enable the Postal Service to convey a greater volume of mail within the contiguous United States by surface transportation, thereby improving on-time reliability.”
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