Given its business model, not to mention the continuing sluggish economy, the 5 percent rate hike that the U.S. Postal Service filed for Tuesday — which, if approved by the independent Postal Regulatory Commission, would push the cost of a first-class stamp to 46 cents next January — was probably inevitable. What’s not inevitable, nor should it be, is the elimination of Saturday mail deliveries, which the commission will also consider next week.
It’s one thing to charge more for a service if you continue to provide the service, but if the post office cuts Saturday deliveries it will have compromised its service significantly. Millions of postal customers — businesses as well as individuals — depend on regular daily mail deliveries. Sundays have always been an allowable exception, primarily because most American businesses take the day off. But if the postal service eliminated Saturday deliveries, it would cause a considerable disruption in the lives of people who depend on the mails for their medicine, for example; a check, perhaps; or their news.
Postal rates have risen fairly dramatically over the past 50 years, but so has the price of most everything else. While 46 cents might seem a bit steep when compared with the 4-cent stamp of the early 1960s, it still seems a bargain compared to the cost of private delivery services like UPS and FedEx. Yes, those folks primarily deliver packages, but even a tiny one weighing an ounce or two, or a rush-delivery business envelope, can’t be shipped with them for less than $5. The postal service, with two- or three-day delivery anywhere in the country for most first-class mail, would seem like a bargain even at 50 cents.
Admittedly, such a steep jump in postal rates wouldn’t be great for business, just as last year’s 50-cent fare hike hurt bus ridership at the Capital District Transportation Authority (falling gas prices also helped). The Internet might take some of that business away permanently, but even at 50 cents for first-class postage, mail would still be the cheapest way to send something that needs to be physically delivered, or is most effective delivered in printed form, within two or three days.
Rather than cut Saturday delivery, the postal service should raise rates; but if eliminating a day becomes absolutely necessary, it should try to avoid one that would mean consecutive days without mail.